The People And the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction (Google eBook)
U of Minnesota Press, 2005 - 244 pages
Much literary scholarship has been devoted to the flowering of Native American fiction and poetry in the mid-twentieth century. Yet, Robert Warrior argues, nonfiction has been the primary form used by American Indians in developing a relationship with the written word, one that reaches back much further in Native history and culture.
Focusing on autobiographical writings and critical essays, as well as communally authored and political documents, The People and the Word explores how the Native tradition of nonfiction has both encompassed and dissected Native experiences. Warrior begins by tracing a history of American Indian writing from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century, then considers four particular moments: Pequot intellectual William Apess’s autobiographical writings from the 1820s and 1830s; the Osage Constitution of 1881; narratives from American Indian student experiences, including accounts of boarding school in the late 1880s; and modern Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday’s essay “The Man Made of Words,” penned during the politically charged 1970s. Warrior’s discussion of Apess’s work looks unflinchingly at his unconventional life and death; he recognizes resistance to assimilation in the products of the student print shop at the Santee Normal Training School; and in the Osage Constitution, as well as in Momaday’s writing, Warrior sees reflections of their turbulent times as well as guidance for our own.
Taking a cue from Momaday’s essay, which gives voice to an imaginary female ancestor, Ko-Sahn, Warrior applies both critical skills and literary imagination to the texts. In doing so, The People and the Word provides a rich foundation for Native intellectuals’ critical work, deeply entwined with their unique experiences.
Robert Warrior is professor of English and Native American studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is author of Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (Minnesota, 1994) and coauthor, with Paul Chaat Smith, of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee.
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