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Native American Authors for Your Reading List

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This is a collaborative guest post by Khrisma McMurray and Sydney Villegas, both interns in the Library’s Archives, Heritage and History Advanced Internship Program (AHHA). During the fall of 2023, they have worked with the Library’s archived author talks to spotlight authors you may know and enjoy. This month, they have put together highlights from archived author talks by Native American and Indigenous writers. 

When the grown-ups began talking,
we paused our loud play and tussling
and squeezed in at the table or settled on the floor nearby.
Our visceral need and appreciation for stories took over
as we absorbed the rhythm, pauses, rises and falls in their voices.
Something inside us urged us to remember, not to forget.

—From “Ilíígo NaalyéhéGoods of Value,” poem by Diné (Navajo) poet Luci Tapahonso, part of Living Nations, Living Words Collection (AFC 2020/004), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Native American Heritage Month is a great time to learn about and remember the vast histories of Native nations, but also a chance to celebrate contemporary lives, arts and culture of indigenous people in the 21st century.

We invite you to dive into the Library’s archives to revisit or uncover Indigenous authors and related resources.

Angeline Boulley (photo credit: Marcella Hadden) and her YA novel “Warrior Girl Unearthed”

Angeline Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sioux Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A former director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education, Boulley is the author of “Firekeeper’s Daughter” (2021) and “Warrior Girl Unearthed” (2023). During her 2023 National Book Festival event, Boulley explores themes of identity, diverse heritage and discovering stolen history within her novels.

  • 7:57 – Boulley discusses the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and how it influences the story in Warrior Girl Unearthed.
  • 10:50 – “The ownership of indigenous bodies past and present is a continuous issue.”
  • 18:27 – “I write to preserve my culture and I edit to protect it.”

Fore more Native author talks from 2023, check out this blog post.

Toni Jensen (photo credit: Sophia Spirlock) and her book “Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land”

Toni Jensen is a professor at the University of Arkansas and the Institute of American Indian Arts, teaching Creative Writing and Indigenous Studies. In her work, Jensen focuses on how historical injustices carry over into the present. Her 2021 National Book Festival appearance focused on her novel “Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land” (2020), a memoir-in-essay focusing on gun violence, land ownership and the lives of Indigenous women. She is Métis.

  • 13:31– Jensen describes how her book includes “Dear Non-Native Reader” moments where she breaks the fourth wall.
  • 22:51– Jensen shares her feelings on the representation of Indigenous literature on library bookshelves.
  • 26:21– Jensen reflects on how teaching at a community college empowered her as a writer.
Kelli Jo Ford (photo credit: Val Ford Hancock) and her novel “Crooked Hallelujah”

Kelli Jo Ford is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Currently, Ford works as a professor of fiction at Sante Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts. Her honors include the Katharine Bakeless Nason Award in Fiction, the Plimpton Prize and a National Artist Fellowship. During her 2021 National Book Festival appearance, Ford reflects on her process to showcase cultural loss, the relationship of Christianity within Indigenous communities and intergenerational trauma explored within her novel “Crooked Hallelujah” (2020).

  • 5:41– Ford explains her depiction of the role Christianity has played in Indigenous communities post-colonization in her book “Crooked Hallelujah.”
  • 24:09– “It’s an honor just to be grouped, you know, with Native writers and let’s keep going. We have a lot to offer. And there’s so many Native writers right now who are just writing powerful works of literature across the genres.”
  • 28:33– Ford shares the community support she has received from Cherokee people from Oklahoma, Plains Tribes and others for her work.
Louise Erdrich (photo credit: Paul Emmel) and her novel “The Round House”

Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and is well known for her commitment to portraying Native American characters and settings in her writing. This includes Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Night Watchman” (2020), which is based the story of her own grandfather. Erdrich currently lives in Minnesota and owns an independent bookstore, Birchbark Books. At the 2015 National Book Festival, Erdrich was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. During the award ceremony, Erdich talks in detail about her work, identity and the authors and books that inspire her.

These maps documenting Native tribes in North America in 1836 and 1939 show the impact of over one hundred years of Native land dispossession.

Noé Alvarez (photo credit: Mia Concordia) and his memoir “Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land”

Noé Alvarez is the child of Mexican immigrant parents and is descended from the Indigenous Purépecha people. His memoir “Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land” (2020) explores his upbringing in Yakima, Washington and his experiences running a relay marathon in community with indigenous people from Canada to Guatemala. His book was named an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review and was called a “literary tour de force” by Publishers Weekly. At the 2021 National Book Festival with Mexican American journalist Maria Hinojosa, Alvarez discusses cultural identity, running and immigration.

  • 5:00 – Alvarez expresses how writing his story was an exercise in reconnecting with the land and himself.
  • 16:42 – Alvarez speaks about how writing can serve as a journey of listening, a way to bring healing and to confront generational pain and trauma.
  • 26:20 – Alvarez talks about how his memoir was received by his family and community.
U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (photo credit: Denise Toombs)

Joy Harjo was a three-term United States Poet Laureate from 2019 to 2022 and the first Native American poet to serve in the position. She was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. As laureate, she launched the digital project “Living Nations, Living Worlds” which gathers together works by 47 living Native poets. Outside of her work with the Library of Congress, Harjo is a musician and saxophonist, and she serves as a Chancellor of the American Academy of American Poets and as Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. In 2023, Harjo appeared at the National Book Festival alongside Camille T. Dungy to discuss the intersections of poetry and nature.

  • 18:44 – Harjo highlights how Native poets and writers often see and portray the world as being non human-centric and explains how people can integrate this perspective into their lives.
  • 25:36 – Harjo speaks about how nature poetry can help us to comprehend and chart the changes that come with climate change.
  • 43:22 Harjo explains how even while living in cities one can connect with nature and honor the land.

Other talks from Native American Authors:

For children: 

With 2023 coming to an end, consider checking out the authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival to help you finish your 2023 reading goals and enrich your mind. What books are you reading to close out the year?

Comments (6)

  1. Hello and Thank you. Please send me a list of Native American Authors and books appropriate for my Middle School students. I am updating our Library Collection and would like to center Indigenous Voices. Sincerely,

    Anne Scatolini, Librarian
    Emerson Community Charter Middle School
    Los Angeles Unified

    • The Darcie Little Badger books are wonderful for middle grade readers, as they are recommended for ages 12-18+. Stay tuned for an upcoming post featuring another program centered on Native American heritage and contemporary challenges faced by Native American and Indigenous people.

  2. Nick Medina author of Sisters of the Lost Nation. He was on a panel at the Library of Congress mystery night.

    • Yes, absolutely a fantastic addition to the list! Watch his talk on the “Murder, They Wrote” panel here.

  3. Amazing history..with the greatest land in world my love America🇺🇸❤️

  4. I would like to join this, as an advocate, and indian descent in light of what is going on accross our country it is critical to continue advocating for indigenous people and our communities.

    As I stand along side this, I know we have much work to do. The Biden-Harris Administration is continuously work to make things better, but we can not stop there, that is why I am actively advocating.

    I would like to ad my name and join the newsletter, blog as well as attend events, trainings, work shops, webinars and panels. Etc.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Ms. Julia Brooks-Goodwin
    [email protected]

    PS feel free to contact me.

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