Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

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Friday, September 2, 2011

NAISA's Most Influential Books

At an awards ceremony held at its most recent annual conference, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) awarded prizes to the "ten most influential books in Native American and Indigenous Studies of the first decade of the twenty-first century." I am delighted--but not at all surprised--to note that two of our faculty members appear on this impressive list.

*One of these most-influential books is Robert Warrior's 2005 book The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction (University of Minnesota Press). Robert has an appointment in English, and he is also Director of our superb American Indian Studies program.

Here, pasted in, is the book description: "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."

*Also way up on the list (and remember, these are the most influential books of a decade) is the collectively-authored 2008 book Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective, published by the University of Oklahoma Press. This book features Robert Warrior and LeAnne Howe, who is a Professor in English as well as in American Indian Studies. This semester, LeAnne is also serving as Director of our Creative Writing program.

Here, once again, is a pasted-in book descriotion: "This collectively authored volume celebrates a group of Native critics performing community in a lively, rigorous, sometimes contentious dialogue that challenges the aesthetics of individual literary representation. Janice Acoose infuses a Cree reading of Canadian Cree literature with a creative turn to Cree language; Lisa Brooks looks at eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Native writers and discovers little-known networks among them; Tol Foster argues for a regional approach to Native studies that can include unlikely subjects such as Will Rogers; LeAnne Howe creates a fictional character, Embarrassed Grief, whose problematic authenticity opens up literary debates; Daniel Heath Justice takes on two prominent critics who see mixed-blood identities differently than he does in relation to kinship; Phillip Carroll Morgan uncovers written Choctaw literary criticism from the 1830s on the subject of oral performance; Kimberly Roppolo advocates an intertribal rhetoric that can form a linguistic foundation for criticism. Cheryl Suzack situates feminist theories within Native culture with an eye to applying them to subjugated groups across Indian Country; Christopher B. Teuton organizes Native literary criticism into three modes based on community awareness; Sean Teuton opens up new sites for literary performance inside prisons with Native inmates; Robert Warrior wants literary analysis to consider the challenges of eroticism; Craig S. Womack introduces the book by historicizing book-length Native-authored criticism published between 1986 and 1997, and he concludes the volume with an essay on theorizing experience.

Reasoning Together
proposes nothing less than a paradigm shift in American Indian literary criticism, closing the gap between theory and activism by situating Native literature in real-life experiences and tribal histories."

This well-deserved recognition for Robert and LeAnne further underscores what a remarkable group of scholars we have in the area of American Indian literary studies. In addition to Robert and LeAnne, there is Jodi Byrd, whose terrific forthcoming book I will soon have occasion to highlight in this space, and Robert Dale Parker, whose publications in this area I have had occasion to kvell about in the not-too-distant past. If there is a stronger faculty in this area anywhere, I'd like to see it!

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