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The Native American has a deep underlying connection to the Earth, land, and all living things. They have a troubled, sordid past, and have struggled long and hard to maintain their rights among people. We are familiar with this from history books, but now we will closely examine and carefully study the Native American culture from these writers perspective. If you have not read writers like Eastman, Silko, and Alexie, you are in for a treat. Please consider how the care and tending to the land and their heritages translates to the care of choosing words to write across the printed page.
You will want to ask what it is each author is doing to add his/her version, or vision, to what is the Native American identity. Is the writer actively writing against commonly held beliefs, questioning the persistent images popular culture has inundates us with, or is it fueled by a different passion or concern?
Charles Alexander Eastman
Eastman , one of a long line of chiefs, one of the first Native American authors to publish, and one of the first Native doctors, wrote about the Sioux life and customs with brilliant descriptions and influence. The opening lines of Winona, The Child Woman from Old Indian Days, shows this: “The sky is blue overhead, peeping through a window-like openings in a roof of green leaves” (Bryant, 2010, p 244). Eastman was also known to write collaboratively with his wife, Goodale Eastman.
Helen Hunt Jackson
Jackson, a highly successful poet, was a neighbor of poet Emily Dickinson’s neighbor, shared the same mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and, later, friendship. While Jackson used her poetry as a means to grieve for the deaths of her infant son and first husband, she also wrote to assert her opinions and views as seen in our reading, A Century of Dishonor.
Sherman J. Alexie, Jr.
Alexie, a truly gifted storyteller, writes, “I sing with everything I have inside of me: pain, happiness, anger, depression, heart, soul, small intestine. I sing and am rewarded with people who listen. That is why I am a poet” (Bryant, 2010, p. 268). Emotions, humor, and the truth are hallmark of his work as Alexie raises awareness and redefines what it means to be Native American. His is a place of honor. If you have not read his book, The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian, you might want to after reading his story, “What Your Pawn I Will Redeem.”
N. Scott Momaday
“Momaday, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, painter, and printmaker, grew up listening to his father tells stories from the Kiowa oral tradition” (Bryant, 2010, p. 304). Momaday was equally influenced by his mother, who became an author of children’s books and went on to be quite a successful novelist, educator, and mover for the Native American people. Here’s an introductory video that shares his background in his own words.
Harjoy is a “writer, musician, photographer, university professor, and feminist/activist,” that is hailed as “one of the real poets of our mixed, fermenting, end-of-century north American imagination” (Bryant, 2010, p. 317). Here Harjoy, a rich storyteller, shares her power, poetry and personality.
Simon J. Ortiz
Many bios claim while Ortiz did not speak until the age of four, his fascination with language and literature started early on (Byrant p. 331). “Ortiz’s experiences at various boarding schools for Native-American children, where punishment was meted out to those who spoke in their own tongue, no doubt also reinforced his passion for words and for understanding their power” (p. 331). He often speaks about the importance of listening: Listening, “not really to find any secrets or sudden enlightenment, but to be improved with that whole process and experience the whole process and experience of language. That’s the way we’ll come to know how we are, who we are, what we know, what we’ll come to know” (p.331).
A Sense of Community & Culture
As we read these authors who are central to the study of contemporary Native American literature we will find various tribal affiliations, primary communities mentioned. Others will present a wider approach and identity as simply Native Americans.
Compare and contrast two Native American writers (compare an early to a recent Native American writer or compare two writers that captivated your interest). Consider how dialogue, description, and details are used or explore significant changes in voice, theme, and characterization in these stories about diversity in America. Respond in a five-paragraph APA essay format with quotes, proper in-text citations, and references.
Please be sure to include the following in your assignment submission:
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