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Reviewed by:
  • Postindian Conversations
  • Michelle Hermann Raheja
Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee. Postindian Conversations. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. 189 pp. Cloth $25.00

Not only is he one of the most prolific contemporary Native American writers, Gerald Vizenor also publishes works in a dazzling number of genres. His works include over one dozen works of fiction, two histories of the Ojibwe, a film, several collections of haiku and poetry, an autobiography, plays, and a number of texts outlining theories of Native American literature. In addition to fiction, autobiography, and literary criticism, Vizenor has published influential essays in newspapers. A series of articles he wrote on Thomas White Hawk, a Native American incarcerated for a double murder who has since died in prison, helped publicize the experiences of urban Indians and was so persuasive that it assisted White Hawk's attorneys in arguing for a prison sentence rather than the death penalty.

Vizenor has conducted dozens of interviews, been the subject of over twenty critical essays, and was featured in a book-length study by Kimberly M. Blaeser, Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition. In addition to his varied literary publications, Vizenor's professional career has also been eclectic. He served in the U.S. Army, was employed as a social worker, published critical reports on the state of urban Indians as a journalist for the Twin Citian and Minneapolis Tribune, and is currently a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Vizenor's work is often difficult to read, mostly because he employs literary theory to understand Native American literature, often creating neologisms such as cross-bloods, postindian, panic holes, terminal creeds, manifest manners, and socioacupuncture. Luckily for students trying to gain access into the exciting and often confusing world of Vizenor's writing, A. Robert Lee, a professor of American literature at Nihon University in Tokyo, has teamed up with the writer to publish Postindian Conversations, a collection of interviews that offer crucial insight into Vizenor's long and complicated literary career. Although this collection requires some prior familiarity with Vizenor's work, it provides the reader with a better understanding of his neologisms and literary theories. For example, Vizenor explains that terminal creeds comes from his studies of Albert Camus and Eric Hoffer. A professor of "terminal creeds" believes in romantic and essentialist notions of American Indian identity. Postindian is also a term Vizenor employs to attempt to explain identity. Influenced by Jean Baudrillard's theories of simulation, Vizenor argues that the word Indian says more about "who we are not, which is significant in identity politics, and nothing about who we are or might become as postindians" (84). Postindian is a placeholder name for the outdated and colonialist misnomer Indian. Interestingly, other neologisms such as panic hole are left undefined, despite Lee's proddings. Vizenor, who possesses a canny sense of humor and the gift of irony, leaves some of his linguistic inventions mysterious, perhaps desisting from imposing static definitions. These words, like the trickster, are allowed to continue dancing [End Page 324] on the page, evading representation and closure through their ability to resist definition.

The book begins with a long list of topics Vizenor has covered, from representations of Indians in film to Dennis Banks's affiliation with the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, and also provides a handy chronology of Vizenor's career. The book is divided into eleven chapters covering the various genres in which Vizenor has written and concludes with a useful bibliography of works written by and about Vizenor.

It is clear from the conversation tone of the interviews that Lee has been challenged by Vizenor's work, especially the ways in which the writer connects American Indian literatures to various figures in Asian literatures, such as the Chinese Monkey King. Lee poses rather straightforward, chronological, and often deeply personal questions about Vizenor's childhood, his father's murder, and his abandonment at the hands of his mother. Vizenor, in turn, sometimes confronts these questions head-on and sometimes meanders around to a subject about which he is more interested in talking. Through these interviews, the reader gets an intimate glimpse into Vizenor's thoughts on...