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Allan Houser. N/WAJO RUNNER. 1975. Unique bronze. 13"x 12"x 7". Reprinted with permission of Anna Marie Houser. Photo courtesy of the Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona. T h e B a b y B o o m G e n e r a t i o n a n d t h e R e c e p t i o n o f N a t i v e A m e r i c a n LITER A TU R E S: D ’A R C Y M C N lC K L E ’S Ru n n e r in th e Su n J o h n L l o y d P u r d y In 1983, Kenneth Lincoln published his ground-breaking study of con­ temporary literature by writers of indigenous descent in the United States. As its title Native American Renaissance suggests, he and many other scholars and academics of that decade heralded the evolution of a canon of literature based in the experiences of Native peoples in this hemisphere and its reception and significance in contemporary times. After all, in 1969, N. Scott Momaday, a writer of Kiowa descent, won the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, House Made of Dairn (1966); and in the 1970s, the window of publishing possibilities opened a bit wider for others, such as Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and Gerald Vizenor, to name just a very few. The timing of this growth in the literary and critical canon of Native writers is significant, for it reflects the changing nature of social discourse in the era and thus the evolution if its reading audience. In the 1970s, this country witnessed the development of ethnic studies as an academic discipline and, for the purposes of this discussion, Native American studies as well, and there are various interesting strands of his­ torical, literary, and sociological events that came together in this decade to form the foundation for the latter. For instance, in 1977, the National Endowment for the Humanities funded an institute at Northern Arizona University that brought together thirty or so academics and Native writers to discuss Native literatures and how best to incorporate them into college curricula. Subsequently, the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures was formed, its journal Studies in American Indian Literatures coming soon after, and, also in 1983, one of the institute participants, Paula Gunn Allen, published Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs. The ripple effects of these weeks of discourse were profound and far-reaching. Over the next decades, this canon would evolve further, but, as scholars are quick to point out, its roots reach back long before this one decade into a pre-colonial world and Western A merican Literature 43.3 (Fa ll 2008): 2 3 3-5 7 2 3 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 8 into the lives of individual writers of the earlier decades of the twentieth century who smoothed the ground for the reception and popularity of the new canon. In March 1936, one of these writers, D’Arcy McNickle (Métis: French/ Cree), published his first novel, The Surrounded. Set on the Montana Salish reservation of his youth (the Flathead Reservation), the novel explores the effects of colonialism in that location and depicts the tribal elders renouncing the Catholic religion, which had come to the val­ ley in 1840 (1854 in the novel) at their own request. The novel was a critical success: one manuscript reader called it the beginning of a “new literature to rival that of Harlem” and the novelist/anthropologist Oliver La Farge— whose own “Indian” novel, Laughing Boy (1929), won the Pulitzer Prize a few years earlier— wrote a very complimentary review of it, comparing it to the great Greek tragedies (Purdy, Word Ways 9). For this thirty-two-year-old author, a life as a writer seemed assured.1 However, the novel was a financial failure. It did not sell; it dropped out of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 233-257
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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