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  • Placing Joseph BruchacNative Literary Networks and Cultural Transmission in the Contemporary Northeast
  • Christine M. Delucia (bio)

“I was taught to believe that the best relationships are reciprocal ones,” Joseph Bruchac wrote in 1980 in a minor advice manual, How to Start and Sustain a Literary Magazine: Practical Strategies for Publications of Lasting Value (3). Bruchac (b. 1942) was then emerging as a powerful voice in American Indian and multicultural small-press publishing, and in this publication he passed along wisdom harvested from a decade of running his own magazine based in the Northeast, the Greenfield Review. He was responding to woes plaguing small-press publishers: perpetual financial struggle, difficulties in building up and retaining a critical mass of readers, and the tendency of promising enterprises to succumb prematurely, “evanes-cent as the Mayfly which hatches in the morning, dazzles the air with its bright wings for one long summer day, and then dies in the evening.” He gave trenchant counsel on the fiscal and technical demands of publishing. But the guide’s core concern involved more than pragmatic considerations. “There should be a sense of community and a bond between those people who care enough to write poetry and fiction and those who care enough to publish it,” he wrote. The payoff of cultivating these relationships, and by extension long-lived literary publications, could be profound: “A sustained magazine creates, through the years, a meeting place for our culture, . . . a cumulative impact which goes beyond the total of its issues if considered one at a time” (2–3). This was a social vision of literature, stretching beyond the exclusionary “mainstream” of publications like the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly, and drawing [End Page 71] together diverse webs of thinkers for reasons inflected by more than personal standing or profit. Even at this early career stage, Bruchac advocated a community-oriented view of intellectual production, and he sought to bring others into the fold as much as to shore up his own reputation.

Using “reciprocal relationships” as a critical lens opens up a dimension of Bruchac’s writing that has been neglected, and helps situate the intellectual and social labors of arguably the most prolific and widely recognized commentator on the Native Northeast of the late twentieth century. Bruchac has towered as a regional literary presence since the 1970s, publishing and performing as a poet, storyteller, critic, editor, and cultural consultant, and emerging as a public face for Abenaki and Native heritages. His writings have appeared in more than five hundred publications, ranging from ultra-local and literary to mass-market titles such as National Geographic and Smithsonian, and earning him national accolades like the 1998 Storyteller of the Year award from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. A selection of his published works has gained critical notice, as in Ron Welburn’s critique of the novels Dawn Land and Long River, in brief assessments of Bruchac’s output through the late 1990s in a special issue of the journal Paintbrush in 1997 (Gardner; Hauprich; Thunderhorse; Winter), and in discussion of his environmental and social justice concerns by Scott Slovic. Anthologies have given Bruchac limited prominence in literary-critical circles, sometimes slotted as a representative northeastern or Abenaki author. Yet Bruchac has been surprisingly understudied, particularly from a historicist perspective that accounts for the fuller range of nonpublishing endeavors he has pursued; and for his place within larger currents of regional, national, and international social thought during the 1970s and 1980s, a tumultuous yet transformative period in American Indian literary history. Furthermore, the categories that have been used to identify Bruchac tend to fall short of capturing the extent and political potency of his influence. “Abenaki children’s author,” for instance, ascribes a pointed localism that pins Bruchac primarily and consistently as an Abenaki or northeastern voice, glossing over the cross-cultural, intertribal, and [End Page 72] interregional nature of his cultural commitments. It elides, too, his work’s applications in mature spheres, sometimes with controversy in tow. Bruchac has called himself a Nudatlogit (“teller of stories,” in Penobscot), yet there is presently little recognition of the multiple venues in which his stories have been mobilized, often...


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pp. 71-96
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