Native American Authors

Poster by TC Cannon, an
Poster by TC Cannon, an Oklahoma Native American artist, who died tragically in 1978.

American Indian Arts in the Twentieth Century

November is Native American Heritage month and so I thought that I might shine a spotlight on U.S. Native American authors, writing in the English language. I was completely unaware of the official designation until I chanced upon a table of books authored by American Indians. This small  display was located in downtown Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Public Library. By coincidence, the Institute for  American Indian Arts (IAIA) exhibition space is located just down the street. This institution is a national arts college for American Indian students, where many disciplines are taught, including creative writing.

An Overview of American Indian Writing

Though American Indian oratory has been an important part of American history for many years, creative Native American writing has been largely a contemporary phenomena. In recent years, American Indian writers have become more noticeable in the literary marketplace. Perhaps, all of this began, when M. Scott Momaday published House Made of Dawn, a short novel that achieved literary fame, when the tale of the Southwest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. Following is a quick look at Native American writers, who are readily available in most bookstores, along with a short selection of eclectic writers, who may not be as readily available.

The Big Names

Sherman Alexie – Mr. Alexie has been writing novels for years, but when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007, the author from the Spokane reservation in Eastern Washington was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. Most of his captivating titles are readily available in any bookstore.

N. Scott Momaday – Already mentioned for his Pulitzer Prize, Momaday is an Oklahoma native of the Kiowa nation, who has written may books of stories and fiction. Besides The House Made of Dawn, you might come across The Way To Rainy Mountain along with some of his more obscure titles in your search for Native American authors.

Louise Erdrich – Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. She has written many novels and stories about Native life in the upper Midwest and Great Plains. She also owns and operates a Native American bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Linda Hogan – Though more obscure than the above three authors, Ms. Hogan (Chickasaw) has over the years put out an impressive array of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles. Some of her more prominent titles include Mean Spirit, Solar Storms and People of the Whale.

Leslie Marmon Silko – Leslie grew up on the edge of Pueblo society in central New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, she would receive national acclaim for some of her stories and books. Her short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant shortly after the story was first published in 1969.

Lesser Known

Not all Native American writers produce written works that go on to find national distribution and acceptance. Still, that does not mean that these “lesser works” are without inspiration, merit or good storytelling. Many of these writers have found an important niche as observers of the American scene on a local or regional level. Following are a very select few taken from a much larger group that always seems to be getting bigger. Please note that only a few of the following  poets and writers work solely in the literary mode.  Many have expanded their voice to the realm music. To paraphrase one Native American poet turned performer, Roxy Gordon, “you have to go where the audience is”

Louis “Little Coon” Oliver – Louis died in 1991 and during his lifetime he only published two books. Nonetheless, his ramblings about tribal life and modern society filled with his humorous and satirical observations were enjoyed by many. Louis was born in Oklahoma, when it was still a territory and was a part of th the Muscogee Creek nation. He was ostracized by many of his tribal members for attending high school and actually obtaining a diploma.

Joy Harjo and Poetic JusticeJoy Harjo is an Oklahoma (Mvskoke Creek) poet , who after publishing several books of poetry, decided to form  a band and go on stage. Still essentially a poet, Joy often performs around the country with her musical ensemble, Poetic Justice.

Joseph Bruchac – Though a long-time resident of the Iroquois country in upstate NY, Joe comes from Vermont, where he is connected with the Abanakis. Not only has Joe written numerous articles, stories and books about the Indian life in the Northeast and elsewhere, but also he is a major organizer of Native American literature and American Indian authors. Check out his Greenfield Review Press, for a major who’s who in tribal literature.

Without Rezervation – Without Rezervation was a Native American rap group from Oakland, California. During the 90s they cut 2 CDs and achieved some notoriety as on of the few (or possibly the only) Native American rap groups. The trio consisted of Chris LaMarr, Mike Marin, and Kevin Nez. The members of this group had Native roots in California (Pit River) and Arizona (Navajo)

 

 

 

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Working Class Writers

Though not literary writers, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe were two American icons that rose from a modest background to stardom.
Though not literary writers, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe were two American icons that rose from a modest background to stardom. Here they are pictured on an exterior wall in Las Vegas.

Labor Day Rant

Today is Labor Day and maybe it is a good time to celebrate those writers (and other artists), who held day jobs to support their  dreams. Actually this list is quite long, so I will concentrate mostly on those who toiled in the “School of Hard Knocks” outside the academic system. For a close look at the various and sundry jobs, writers have held in order to maintain their craft, check out this article at Huffington Post.

Now…..Don’t get me wrong……Academia has produced some amazingly talented writers. First to mind, are those wonderful British professors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They both taught at Oxford and at the same time each in his own right produced some of the most remarkable fiction of the mid-twentieth century. In fact, the two were best of friends, who created and nourished The Inklings, an extra-curriculum literary discussion group that always met in one of Oxford’s many well-attended watering holes.

Jack Kerouac and the Beats

Jack Kerouac and company are notorious for allegedly spurning a whole cultural revolution that spurned higher education and encouraged various non-conformist activities, such as socializing at coffee houses (and bars), digging jazz music and writing offbeat and dissident poetry. Except for Kerouac and Neal Cassady, this group racked up quite a slew of impressive academic credentials. Though Alan Ginsburg dropped out of Columbia to write poetry, he did return and complete his degree program. Furthermore, William Burroughs was a Harvard graduate., while Gegory Corso attended the elite university as a a non-matriculating student— a poet in residence. Rounding out the group are Gary Snyder, who attended UCal Berkeley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who received an advanced degree from the Sorbonne in Paris, France. All in all, that’s a pretty impressive collection of degrees and academic experiences.

The British Class System

Just by the sheer number of writers and poets that have come from the British Empire, this commonwealth of nations has to be one of the most literary places on the planet. Some of the Empire’s finest writers, actually grew up in the British hinterlands and so they never had to opportunity to attend an institute of higher learning. At the top of this list would be  Doris Lessing, a Rhodesian writer, who recently received a Nobel Prize in Literature, and the ever-popular George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair. Eric grew up in remote India and so he was never able to obtain a proper education. Still, this did not prevent the writer from producing several 20th century classics.

Back in old Londontown, fans of the mystery and crime genres will be interested in the life and times of Agatha Christie, who spent her childhood years in both London and Devonshire. Despite being home-schooled, Agatha Christie’s books have sold more copies for all authors except Shakespeare and the Bible.

My Labor Day Reading List

Following are some classic titles by a few brave writers, who went out and did things for themselves…..and then wrote about it. In reality, there are many books in this field. These few titles are just a my personal favorites and perhaps a jumping off point for your own reading adventures……for there are many more great titles out there.

1. You Can’t Win by Jack Black    This autobiographical tale from a turn-of-the-century hobo-cat burglar was William Burroughs favorite read. Need I say more.

2. The Drifting Cowboy by Will James    Though born in Quebec, Will James (an alias used to cover his cattle rustling past) escaped to the U.S. and worked many western ranches as a 20th century cowhand and roper. He also worked as a Hollywood stunt man during the early years.

3. Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell    Orwell’s firsthand account of washing dishes in 30s Paris and marching from one shelter to the next in England will leave you spellbound.

4. Roughing It by Mark Twain  Before Twain made it big with Tom Sawyer, the man did many things including tramping across the West during the Civil War.

5. Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry    Here the author of the Little Prince recounts his flying days and a crash in the Sahara that may have lead to the petite prince story.

6. Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour  Louis L’Amour was more than just a western writer. He was also a professional boxer and merchant marine who traveled the Seven Seas. This book takes you through his world traveling and roundabout ways of his younger days.

In Conclusion

Perhaps the biggest working class heroes of all…….the Liverpool Lads

“They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be”

John Lennon from Working Class Hero

Probably no other group of artists better represents  the working class than the British fab four, John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Probably no other group of artists better represents the working class than the British fab four, John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Resistance Is Futile (and other casual musings from the world of Sci-Fi)

Star Trek Encounters the Cube of Borg
Star Trek Encounters the Cube of Borg

This much used sci-fi quotation actually was first used by Dr. Who, not the Borg. The Borg is only the latest in a long line of alien entities to issue such an ultimatum to an inferior force. On a more humorous note check out President Obama as a Borg like creature in the caricature spoof at the bottom of the page. In a similar mode, I have included a collection of 13 quotes from both sci-fi writers and sci-fi movie characters. Check these out and see how they differ.         Henri B

Locutus from the Borg in the Star Trek movie
Locutus from the Borg in the Star Trek: First Contact movie

 

1. “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I cant do that.” – HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2. “Are you telling me you built a time machine… out of a Delorean?” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future (1985)

3. “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”   SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Errand of Mercy”

4. “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” by Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

5. “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” -Roy Batty, Blade Runner

6. “(I’m) from another planet. Let’s just say that we’re neighbors.”  Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still

7. “If you’re going to make a science fiction movie, then have a hover craft chase, for God’s sake.”  by Joss Whedon

8. “Hey doll, is this guy boring you? Come and talk to me. I’m from a different planet.” — Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

9. “Destiny always seems decades away, but suddenly it’s not decades away; it’s right now. But maybe destiny is always right now, right here, right this very instant, maybe.” — Brother Joshua in A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

10.  “Do…..or do not. There is no try.” Yoda,  in The Empire Strikes Back

11. Imagination is the key to my lyrics. The rest is painted with a little science fiction.” by Jimi Hendrix

12.  “I realize that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done.”   SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Galileo Seven”

13. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” -Philip K. Dick

Obama as a  Borg and Resistance Is Futile
Obama as a Borg and Resistance Is Futile

 

 

 

Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

What Other Writers Have To Say

 

Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author
Sign in a Santa Fe shop window, photo by author

Sunday Blues

Since I have nothing to add to the blogosphere on this hot July Sunday afternoon, I just thought I’d pass along a few comments and quotes by some of the more noted authors. I have culled these little gems from my internet musings over the past week and I may attempt to continue this effort on a weekly or bi-weekly basis if time allows.

The Quotes

1. “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” by Steve Martin

2. “The cliffhanger — which sounds like a weird sex move or a particularly diligent dingleberry – isn’t just for use at the end of a book.” by Chuck Wendig

3. “The good news is that anyone can get published. The bad news is that anyone can get published.” by David Henry Sterry

4. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.” Robert Graves

5. “It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” by C. J. Cherryh

6. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” by Kurt Vonnegut

7. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” by Will Rogers

8. The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” by J.K. Rowling

9. “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” by Sir Winston Churchill

10. “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.” by Steve Martin

11. “I can have oodles of charm when I want to,” by Kurt Vonnegut

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard
Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon
JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert
In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

Is Magic Realism Just A Latin American Thing?

“Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”             by Wendy B. Faris and Lois Parkinson Zamora

Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nuts and Bolts of Magic Realism

Nowadays, it is generally believed that anybody can write Magic Realism, not just verbose Latin American authors. Just to prove how widespread this idea is, I will recent a recent article in Writer’s Digest that explains the basis of such a literary task. Among the building blocks of Magic Realism that author Kristin O’Keeffe cites is creating a realistic and mundane world from which your magic elements can spring forth. Miss O’Keefe goes on to say that no logical explanation is needed for those strange things that might occur during the course of your story……they just happen. Still, keep in mind that Magic Realism is not fantasy, for it is always grounded in a real (and often mundane) world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing
The Hummingbird’s Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing

Golden Age of Magic Realism

The Golden Age of Latin American Magic Realism probably occurred during the 40s, 50s and 60s, culminating with the Marquez classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today, the popular genre has been replaced by more realistic historical and political stories about some of the horrendous and tumultuous events that have shaped some Latin American nations in the second half of the 20th century. For example, Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of Butterflies, sounds like it be of the genre. But instead it is basically a historical novel underlining the cruelty and barbarity of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Alvarez’s story may be typical of what is going on among Latin writers today with a movement away from the slightly unreal to the coarse reality of everyday life.

Heart of the Jaguar by Pax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism
Heart of the Jaguar by Jax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism

Magic Realism Abounds Today

Just as authors South of the Border may be moving away from floating and flying characters, numerous other writers from the U.S., Europe and Asia, seem more than ready to embrace the concept. A Magic Realism reading list put forth by Kristin O’Keeffe embraces such literary stars as Toni Morrison, Huruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Karen Russell and Alice Hoffman. The Magic Realism of Folk Tales To my way of thinking, Fairy Tales are a great source of Magical Realism that has been overlooked by this literary discussion. True they do have strong fantasy elements, but for the most part, the stories are grounded in rather real and mundane worlds, especially if you consider the time period, when they were written. What is most important here is the way fairy tales have been re-adapted and re-told by contemporary authors to convey a modern dilemma. With this genre contemporary writing has a rich and fertile ground from which to introduce new elements of magic to readers everywhere.