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 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 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 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 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.
- 12:00 – Erdrich explores how her multicultural identity and ancestral connections informs how she imagines characters and her writing style.
- 19:32 – Erdrich reflects on her use of magical realism and how, in her eyes, it combines elements from Latin American, Catholic and Indigenous traditions and thought.
- 27:36 – Erdrich discusses her novels “The Round House” (2012) and “The Plague of Doves” (2008) and how she incorporates tribal jurisdiction and ideas of justice into these stories.
- Collections connection:
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 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.
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:
- Harlyn Geronimo discusses his nonfiction title, “In Geronimo’s Footsteps: A Journey Beyond Legend”
- B.L. Blanchard, author of speculative fiction novel “The Peacekeeper” in conversation with Lucinda Roy’s, author of the Dreambird Chronicle series.
- Morgan Talty on his collection of stories “Night of the Living Rez” in conversation with Tomás Q. Morín, author of “Let Me Count the Ways”.
- Darcie Little Badger, author of young adult novel “A Snake Falls to Earth,” on a panel with Donna Barba Higuera, author of “The Last Quentista” and Malinda Lo, author of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.”
- Rep. Sharice Davids discusses her picture book “Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman”
- Xelena González reads from her picture book “Where Wonder Grows”
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?