Why November is the time to discover Native American Indian Writers and Artists
November is Native American Heritage Month and created to help people discover, enjoy, and honor American Indians and Alaska Natives. Join and celebrate the rich and diverse cultures by reading some of their great authors and learning about their marvelous creative artists.
Discover the wonders of the unique and their particular cultures with the following creative Native American Indians.
Native American Writers and their books
Sherman Alexie is one of the best known Native American writers today. He has authored several novels and collections of poetry and short stories, a number of which have garnered him prestigious awards, including a National Book Award. In his work, Alexie draws on his experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation, addressing sometimes difficult themes like despair, poverty, alcoholism, and Native American identity with humor and compassion. As a result, no survey of Native American literature is complete without Alexie’s work.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney (Illustrator)
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Leslie Marmon Silko:
A key figure in the first wave of the “Native American Renaissance” (a term fraught with controversy, but that’s another discussion), Silko is an accomplished writer who has been the recipient of MacArthur Foundation Grants and a lifetime achievement award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. Her most well-known work is the novel Ceremony, in which she draws on her Laguna heritage to tell the story of a WWII veteran returning home from the war to his poverty-stricken reservation. She has written numerous novels, short stories, and poems in the years since, and remains a powerful figure in American literature.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.
Janet Campbell Hale:
Growing up on reservations helped inspire some of the work of this writer and professor, and she honed her gift for the written word at UC Berkeley while earning her M.A. in English. Her novel The Jailing of Cecelia Capture was nominated for a Pulitzer and is perhaps her best-known work, though her Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter is a close runner up, earning her the American Book Award. Both novels, one fiction, and one non-fiction are essential reads for anyone trying to understand the modern Native American experience
The Jailing of Cecelia Capture by Janet Campbell Hale
Cecelia Capture Welles, an Indian law student, and mother of two, is jailed on her thirtieth birthday for drunk driving. Held on an old welfare fraud charge, she reflects back on her life on the reservation in Idaho, her days as an unwed mother in San Francisco, her marriage to a white liberal, and her decision to return to college. This mixed inheritance of ambition and despair brings her to the brink of suicide.
“The Jailing of Cecelia Capture is a beautifully written book. Janet Campbell Hale’s gifts are genuine and deeply felt.”–Toni Morrison
Native American Artists
Wendy Red Starr
Wendy Red Star, a Native American artist of the Apsáalooke (Crow) lineage, born in Billings, Montana in 1981, is known for her funny, surreal, but biting self-portrait photographs that poke fun at white American culture’s tendency to misrepresent Native American history. Red Star’s photography practice is her way of navigating her experience growing up on a Crow Indian Reservation, juxtaposed with her experience of mainstream contemporary society. Using materials like Target-brand Halloween costumes and inflatable animals, Red Star counters the stereotypical trope that all Native American people are “one with nature.”
Discover more about Wendy in Fahima Haque’s The New York Times’s article “Happening in Indigenous America.”
Teri Greeves (b. 1970), originally from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, is known primarily for her use of the traditional Kiowa art of beading, which she learned from her grandmother. She writes that her grandmother expressed herself through beadwork, and despite working menial jobs as a dishwasher and a cleaner, she was always primarily an artist. Greeves has been working with beads since she was 8 years old, and for her, being an artist is about giving a voice to her ancestors before her. She writes, “I am compelled to do it… I have no choice in the matter. I must express myself and my experience as a 21st Century Kiowa and I do it, like all those unknown artists before me, through beadwork… and though my medium may be considered ‘craft’ or ‘traditional,’ my stories are from the same source as the voice running through that first Kiowa beadworker’s needles. It is the voice of my grandmothers.”
Discover more about Teri in the NPR “All Things Considered article,
Making is About Survival: Exhibition Celebrates Artwork of Native Women
Frank Buffalo Hyde
In his vibrant, richly saturated, satirical graphic realist paintings, artist Frank Buffalo Hyde (b. 1974) juxtaposes 21st century pop culture signifiers with symbols and themes from his Native American heritage. Born in Santa Fe and raised on his mother’s Onandaga reservation, Hyde seeks to dismantle stereotypes of Native American culture with his work. He takes imagery from pop culture, politics, films, television shows, etc. and overlaps the references to replicate what he refers to as “the collective unconsciousness of the 21st century. In his painting series “In-Appropriate,” Hyde paints satirical portraits of people wearing “jacked-up portrayal(s) of Native American imagery” that are at once funny and revolting. Hyde overtly defies the aesthetics of what people might think Native American art “should” look like, including subjects such as selfie-sticks, iPhones, cheerleaders and plates of buffalo wings. His narrative series I-Witness Culture explores life as a Native American in the digital age. Hyde’s work addresses contemporary America’s fear of the “other,” and the tendency to homogenize indigenous cultures to counter this fear (which ultimately materializes as racist mascots and costumes). Hyde’s work has been exhibited internationally, and he was artist-in-residence at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe.
Discover more about Frank Buffalo Hyde and his art at “Frank Buffalo Hyde”