Interpretations of Native North American Literatures
Transatlantic Voices is the first collection of critical essays by European scholars on contemporary Native North American literatures. Devoted to the primary genres of Native literature—fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry—the essays chart the course of recent theories of Native literature, delineate the crosscurrents in the history of Native literature studies, and probe specific themes of trauma and memory as well as changing mythologies. These essays also incorporate incipient transnational and transcultural methodologies in their approach to Native North American writing.
Blending western critical approaches—from cultural studies to postcolonialism and trauma theory—with indigenous epistemological perspectives, the contributors to Transatlantic Voices advocate “the inescapable hybridity and intermixture of ideas” proposed by Paul Gilroy in his study of black diasporic identity. Native North American writers forcefully suggest that the study of American ethnicities in the twenty-first century can no longer be confined to the borders of the United States. Given the increasing transnational aspect of American studies, a collection such as Transatlantic Voices, presenting scholars from countries as diverse as Germany, France, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Finland, offers a timely contribution to such border crossing in scholarship and writing.
Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Indigenous Worldviews
Penelope Myrtle Kelsey
Scholars and readers continue to wrestle with how best to understand and appreciate the wealth of oral and written literatures created by the Native communities of North America. Are critical frameworks developed by non-Natives applicable across cultures, or do they reinforce colonialist power and perspectives? Is it appropriate and useful to downplay tribal differences and instead generalize about Native writing and storytelling as a whole?
Focusing on Dakota writers and storytellers, Seneca critic Penelope Myrtle Kelsey offers a penetrating assessment of theory and interpretation in indigenous literary criticism in the twenty-first century. Tribal Theory in Native American Literature delineates a method for formulating a Native-centered theory or, more specifically, a use of tribal languages and their concomitant knowledges to derive a worldview or an equivalent to Western theory that is emic to indigenous worldviews. These theoretical frameworks can then be deployed to create insightful readings of Native American texts. Kelsey demonstrates this approach with a fresh look at early Dakota writers, including Marie McLaughlin, Charles Eastman, and Zitkala-Ša and later storytellers such as Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Ella Deloria, and Philip Red Eagle.
This book raises the provocative issue of how Native languages and knowledges were historically excluded from the study of Native American literature and how their encoding in early Native American texts destabilized colonial processes. Cogently argued and well researched, Tribal Theory in Native American Literature sets an agenda for indigenous literary criticism and invites scholars to confront the worlds behind the literatures that they analyze.
Troubling Tricksters is a collection of theoretical essays, creative pieces, and critical ruminations that provides a re-visioning of trickster criticism in light of recent backlash against it. The complaints of some Indigenous writers, the critique from Indigenous nationalist critics, and the changing of academic fashion have resulted in few new studies on the trickster. For example, The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature (2005), includes only a brief mention of the trickster, with skeptical commentary. And, in 2007, Anishinaabe scholar Niigonwedom Sinclair (a contributor to this volume) called for a moratorium on studies of the trickster irrelevant to the specific experiences and interests of Indigenous nations.
One of the objectives of this anthology is, then, to encourage scholarship that is mindful of the critics responsibility to communities, and to focus discussions on incarnations of tricksters in their particular national contexts. The contribution of Troubling Tricksters, therefore, is twofold: to offer a timely counterbalance to this growing critical lacuna, and to propose new approaches to trickster studies, approaches that have been clearly influenced by the nationalists call for cultural and historical specificity.
Since N. Scott Momaday’s 1969 Pulitzer Prize for House Made of Dawn brought Native American fiction squarely into mainstream culture, the genre has expanded in different ways and in new directions. The result is a Native American–written literature that requires a variety of critical approaches, including a discussion of how this canon differs from the familiar, established canons of American literature. Drawing on personal experience as well as literary scholarship, John Lloyd Purdy brings the traditions of Native American fiction into conversation with ideas about the past, present, and future of Native literatures.
By revisiting some of the classics of the genre and offering critical readings of their distinctive qualities and shades of meaning, Purdy celebrates their dynamic literary qualities. Interwoven with this personal reflection on the last thirty years of work in the genre are interviews with prominent Native American scholars and writers (including Paula Gunn Allen, Simon Ortiz, Gerald Vizenor, Sherman Alexie, and Louis Owens), who offer their own insights about Native literatures and the future of the genre. In this book their voices provide the original, central conversation that leads to readings of specific novels. At once a journey of discovery for readers new to the canon and an intimate, fresh reunion with important novels for those well versed in Native studies, Writing Indian, Native Conversations invites all comers to participate in a communal conversation.
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