When I started pulling together this blog post about books for Native American Heritage Month, I knew I wanted to highlight modern-day stories written by modern-day writers; so much of the narrative about Native Americans is centered in the past, ignoring current-day realities, or is written by outsiders who tend to objectify or romanticize the people and cultures they write about.
In light of current discussions about the suppression of the writing of Indigenous women, I also wanted to focus on stories written by newer and lesser-known Native American women authors. No disrespect intended to all the amazing and well-known literary greats out there who have long been in the national consciousness and can be found on most booklists from the past couple of decades— Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joy Harjo, among others— but there is just so much new and up-and-coming talent to highlight.
There are a lot of recommendations going on right now across many different platforms, but I pulled heavily from this Twitter thread by Elissa Washuta, member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, professor at Ohio State University, and author of the much-lauded My Body is a Book of Rules:
I see some non-Native readers looking for recommendations of works by Native writers who aren't Sherman Alexie. It's honestly pretty tiring to fight for attention and only get it at times like these, but I'm willing to take the opening and make some recommendations:
— Elissa Washuta (@elissawashuta) February 25, 2018
I've featured 4 books here, but make sure to check out the booklist at the end for more suggestions!
The first book is a recent memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot that has been getting a lot of acclaim, the New York Times calling it "a sledgehammer". Mailhot grew up on Seabird Island Reservation in British Columbia and is a student of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), which is the first indigenous-centered MFA program in the US. For more information on the author or the IAIA's program and its upcoming talent, take a look at the article, These Writers Are Launching A New Wave of Native American Literature.
#NotYourPrincess is a beautiful and moving collection of poetry and artwork that presents a wide range of experiences, showing present-day Indigenous women in their full and complex humanity.
This book showed up on my radar when Debbie Reese, the founder of American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL), gave it a glowing review. This intense, raw book follows Margaritte, a struggling mixed race Apache, Chickasaw, and Cherokee teen who finds her dreams of something different being challenged by pregnancy. It is a compelling read that shows the harsh realities of Margaritte's life without devolving into stereotype or melodrama.
I'm cheating on my own criteria here since this one's set in the 1970s, but I wanted to feature it because it has a bit different of a feel than the rest of the books on the list. Part murder mystery, part coming of age tale, the strength of Murder on the Red River comes in the form of a memorable 19-year-old beer-drinking, pool-playing, tough-as-nails rural truck driver named Renee "Cash" Blackbear.