The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

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University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007 - Literary Collections - 292 pages

Introducing a dramatic new chapter to American Indian literary history, this book brings to the public for the first time the complete writings of the first known American Indian literary writer, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (her English name) or Bamewawagezhikaquay (her Ojibwe name), Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky (1800-1842). Beginning as early as 1815, Schoolcraft wrote poems and traditional stories while also translating songs and other Ojibwe texts into English. Her stories were published in adapted, unattributed versions by her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a founding figure in American anthropology and folklore, and they became a key source for Longfellow's sensationally popular The Song of Hiawatha.

As this volume shows, what little has been known about Schoolcraft's writing and life only scratches the surface of her legacy. Most of the works have been edited from manuscripts and appear in print here for the first time. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky presents a collection of all Schoolcraft's extant writings along with a cultural and biographical history. Robert Dale Parker's deeply researched account places her writings in relation to American Indian and American literary history and the history of anthropology, offering the story of Schoolcraft, her world, and her fascinating family as reinterpreted through her newly uncovered writing. This book makes available a startling new episode in the history of American culture and literature.


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The sound the stars make rushing through the sky: the writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

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Schoolcraft (1800-42) was one of the earliest Native American literary writers, composing both short stories and poetry as well as translating Ojibwe tales into English. This volume offers a selection ... Read full review

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Jane Schoolcraft's Ojibwe myths have the details that many later recordings by ethnologists missed. So many other Indian myths appear as spare and sparse records composed by an English speaker who came decades after the time of the conquest with a sometimes-shaky command of an Indian language.
Her Ojibwe myths ably account for important values in Indian culture: the taboo against abandonment, the effect of adultery upon children, and the sometimes troubling nature of a relationship between the father of daughters and a would-be suitor. Students of Greek mythology will find parallels, such as the person whose limbs and hair become the branches and roots of a tree.
As one who wrote in both Ojibwe and English, Schoolcraft's poetry is modern in spare, imagistic translations but dated in nineteenth century translations that imposed English structures for pattern and rhyme upon her poetry. Her poem of grief about leaving her children at a boarding school, as per their father's request, is a chilling reminder of the cruelties of boarding schools for Indian students who were "taught" European ways--and frequently exploited or abused. One hopes the boarding school involved was unlike that depicted in The Education of Little Tree. Without a contemporary translation of the Ojibwe language, later readers read her poetry through a veil.
Her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, was an Indian agent sent to upper Michigan, and her father, John Johnston, was an Irish fur trader with an amazingly extensive library for a French and Indian area. When Jane married Schoolcraft in 1823, their life included scholarship, poetry, and the distribution of a handwritten magazine.
Robert Dale Parker notes that the manuscript collection in the archives shows Jane Schoolcraft's handwriting for works that have been attributed to Schoolcraft. If so, his Algic Researches could be properly said to be authored by both of them.
As possibly the first Indian writing in English, Jane Schoolcraft's work should have been made available long before Parker's commendable anthology appeared in 2007. She was truly bi-cultural and bilingual. Jane Schoolcraft's works carry the import of spoken tale, one deemed central enough to Indian social outlook that it was repeated across generations.


To the Miscodeed
My humble present is a purse
To a Bird Seen Under My Window in the Garden
Pensive Hours
Amid the still retreat of Elmwoods shade
Sweet Willy
An Odjibwa Tale
La Renne
Song for a Lover Killed in Battle
My lover is tall and handsome
Dying Speech
Sources and Editorial Procedures
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft An Introduction to the Poetry of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft Dawn of Literary Composition by Educated Natives of the aboriginal tribes

On reading Miss Hannah Moores Christian morals and Practical
Spirit of Peace
A Chippewa Tale
A Chippewa Tale
Corn story or the origin of corn
Misattributions and Potential Misattributions
List of Less Substantive Variants
Works Cited

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About the author (2007)

Robert Dale Parker is Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of several books, including The Invention of Native American Literature.

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