Saturday, November 1, 2008

Native American Heritage Month: Read a Book

November is Native American Heritage Month. Chances are you don't know about this, or if you do, maybe it's because your local PBS station is showing Dances with Wolves or perhaps a Native American dance troupe will be performing somewhere in your area. There's nothing wrong with either of these. DWW was innovative for its time in that all the American Indian parts were played by American Indians, and Indian dance is both beautiful and physically demanding. The problem is, that's where it usually ends for most of us who still see Native Americans as part of our country's past, but never bother to learn anything about them in the present.

In fact, the native nations across this country comprise thriving, intellectual, cultural, and political communities. Several years ago when I asked a historian friend to recommend books that would provide a good idea of current Native American issues, he told me, read the fiction. So, this being a writing/reading blog, what is more appropriate than to make some book recommendations.

If you haven't yet sampled Native American Literature I think you are in for a treat. Like other cultures with an oral tradition, story telling is an art, and this art transfers well to the written page. You may be familiar with Sherman Alexie or Louise Erdrich, but there are many other fine writers and books I can recommend.

I'll start with, Reckonings, Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women. I reviewed this for Roses & Thorns and am linking to it on my book review blog, Cross Reference. This will give you a good sampling of some of the best writing including Joy Harjo and the late Paula Gunn Allen. Two older books that still capture well the essence of Indian-white relations are by D'Arcy McNickle. They are The Surrounded and Wind From An Enemy Sky. You may be familiar with James Welch's The Heartsong of Charging Elk, which, actually, was not one of my favorites, but I suggest you try The Death of Jim Loney, a book that, at just 179 pages, packs a huge wallop. Then there's Adrian C. Louis's Skins, a tragicomic tale set on the Pine Ridge Reservation, that was made into a movie by director, Chris Eyre.

Obviously, I could go on and on, but I think that's enough to start. I also have probably hundreds of nonfiction books in my library that I would be happy to recommend if you could narrow down your topic of interest. Just contact me.

To order any of these books from Amazon or to make your own recommendations, see Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with These Books on Cross Reference. And consider clicking on the logo to become a Modern Day Warrior. If you aren't quite sure you are up for that, at least exlore the NARF site and learn about how the fight the good fight.

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