In the years since I first encountered this genre-busting text in graduate school, I have had the opportunity to visit the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute and to read Mary Ellicott Arnold’s papers and to talk with women whose families belonged to the same Friends Meeting as Arnold’s family. Those experiences lent welcome context to the narrative provided by In the Land of the Grasshopper Song, and the new scholarly apparatus of this Bison Books edition provides a similar, very welcome widening of the reader’s lens.
The foreword by André Cramblit places Arnold and Reed’s experiences in the context of California’s history and that of the Karuk people. This text, while not widely read, is accessible to a wide range of potential readers (in my experience alone, this includes graduate students, undergraduates, several ninth graders, and neighborhood book clubs), a spectrum that makes it more than likely that readers of this text will occasionally find themselves struggling to overcome the same romantic stereotypes and prejudices that Arnold and Reed themselves faced. Cramblit’s thoughtful exposition usefully sets the terms of one kind of framework for this text; he speaks as a member of the Karuk Tribe and from a personal connection to the cultural and historical changes that have taken place since Arnold and Reed wrote about their years in California. The brief but moving afterword by Terry Supahan reinforces the sense of personal connection that is so much a part of Arnold and Reed’s narrative, noting that “this book represented to the outside world our history—that we did indeed exist—and it captured our good humor, our good looks, and our tough-mindedness. … It told the world that we survived” (316). [End Page 473]
The very best part of this new edition, however, aside from the opportunity to reread a well-loved text, is Susan Bernardin’s introduction, which is scholarly, succinct, and relevant. Bernardin does a masterful job of rendering accessible the complexities of the original document, its publication history and readership, and the place Arnold and Reed’s narrative occupies in the Karuk community. As a “hybrid text,” Grasshopper Songcan and does fit into a number of the stories scholars and critics tell about California history, about the roles women occupied at the turn of the last century, about the genres of memoir, bildungsroman, and Western. The story still waiting to be told is the place this narrative and its authors hold in the Friends community, but that only means more scope for graduate student research possibilities.