- The Fictions of Stephen Graham Jones: A Critical Companion ed. by Billy J. Stratton
This new critical companion is a welcome addition to twenty-first-century scholarship of Indigenous American literatures. For too long, the immense and prolific output of the visionary Stephen Graham Jones had gone underrecognized and underexamined within the field of Native literary studies. Until now, the dizzying speed at which Jones tends to produce his next mesmerizing book of fiction existed in a stark and unsatisfying contrast with the relative dearth of criticism to tackle his complex works. It was a serious imbalance in the Force. However, thanks to this new collection, edited by Billy J. Stratton, this imbalance is now on the mend. The Fictions of Stephen Graham Jones should serve as a valuable and practical resource for scholars, teachers, and students of Jones's work for many years to come.
The book has five parts. The introductory part focuses on Jones himself, offering readers a sincere and genuine window into the artist and his constellation of experiences and processes. The opening piece is Jones's own instant classic, "Letter to a Just-Starting Out Indian Writer—and Maybe to Myself," followed by Stratton's overview of Jones's life and work. What comes next is brilliant: a nearly fifty-page series of dialogues between Stratton and Jones. The insights offered in this part alone make the entire book a success.
The four parts that follow the introductory part are arranged in a logical and user-friendly sequence. Part 1, "Storier of Postmodern Survivance," [End Page 111] focuses on the novels that Stratton terms the Indian Country Trilogy: The Fast Red Road, The Bird Is Gone, and Ledfeather. This part will be useful to anyone studying or teaching these novels, and it helps to position Jones within the contemporary galaxies of Native literary studies and postmodern fiction. Part 2, "Writing at the Margins," broadens the scope of inquiry beyond the Indian Country Trilogy and explores the intersectionalities and possibilities inspired by Jones's fictions. This part offers an enjoyable variety of critical voices, and it testifies to the incredible range and variety of Jones's fictional worlds. Part 3, "Jones and Genre: Speculative Explorations into the Desert of the Real," analyzes Jones's surrealist tendencies and celebrates his impressive ability to ensnare readers through multiple genres and subgenres. Finally, the appendices offer previously unpublished works from the "Archives of Stephen Graham Jones," such as "The Unexpurged Glossary of Terms from The Bird Is Gone."
All of the criticism in this volume is well written, interesting, and potent. All of these essays would be useful secondary sources to assign in an advanced course, and the book as a whole should be required reading for any graduate student doing work on Jones. For my part, as a reader and reviewer, I approach Stratton's collection primarily from the perspective of a teacher. I frequently assign Jones's works in introductory courses on Native literatures, and the books I'm most likely to teach are The Bird Is Gone and Ledfeather. Prior to now, my students and I had little access to interpretations of either novel beyond the occasional blog available on the public Internet. This new collection revolutionizes my capacity to point my students toward useful secondary sources. I also teach Jones's short stories on occasion, especially pieces from Bleed into Me, and I am grateful to the attention that multiple contributors in this volume give to that collection.
As a reviewer with a strong personal interest in the developing conversations about Indigenous futurism, surrealism, and genre fiction, I appreciate how this collection builds upon the foundations established in Grace Dillon's landmark Walking the Clouds. In addition to the book's impressive range of critical approaches and its admirable ability to engage and represent the scope of Jones's expansive literary production, I truly appreciate the various insights that the book provides into Jones's own experiences and processes as a writer...