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Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with These Novels

November 7, 2017

 

November is Native American Heritage Month and now is the perfect time to be more intentional about adding diversity to your "To Read" list. To write diversely you need to read diversely. Here are just a few of many adult fiction books by Indigenous authors you should read ASAP. (Reviews are not my own).

 

 

Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival

by Velma Wallis

 

Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness "speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom" (Ursula K. Le Guin).

 

Velma Wallis is one in a family of thirteen children, all born in the vast fur-trapping country of Fort Yukon, Alaska, and raised with traditional Athabascan values. A writer and avid reader, she lives in Fairbanks.

 

 

The Break

by Katherena Vermette

 

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

 

KATHERENA VERMETTE is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Métis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Her National Film Board short documentary, this river, won the Coup de Coeur at the Montreal First Peoples Festival and a Canadian Screen Award. Her first novel, The Break (House of Anansi) was a national bestseller and won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award. The Break was shortlisted for a Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and was a 2017 Canada Reads finalist.

 

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.

 

Leslie Marmon Silko was born in 1948 to a family whose ancestry includes Mexican, Laguna Indian, and European forebears. She has said that her writing has at its core “the attempt to identify what it is to be a half-breed or mixed-blood person.” As she grew up on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, she learned the stories and culture of the Laguna people from her great-grandmother and other female relatives.

 

 Green Grass, Running Water

by Tomas King

 

Alberta is a university professor who would like to trade her two boyfriends for a baby but no husband; Lionel is forty and still sells televisions for a patronizing boss; Eli and his log cabin stand in the way of a profitable dam project. These three—and others—are coming to the Blackfoot reservation for the Sun Dance and there they will encounter four Indian elders and their companion, the trickster Coyote—and nothing in the small town of Blossom will be the same again

 

THOMAS KING is one of Canada’s premier Native public intellectuals. King was the first Aboriginal person to deliver the prestigious Massey Lectures, and is also the bestselling, award-winning author of six novels, two collections of short stories and two nonfiction books. He won the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Literature for his most recent novel, The Back of the Turtle. His non-fiction tour de force, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America won the BC National Award for Canadian Non Fiction and the RBC Taylor Prize, as well as being a finalist for 2015 CBC Canada Reads. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada. He lives in Guelph, ON.

 

 

The Grass Dancer

by Susan Power

 

From the lore of her people, the Sioux, Susan Power presents an extraordinary debut novel rich in drama and infused with magic. Set on a North Dakota reservation, this book weaves the stories of the old and the young, broken families, romantic rivals, and men and women in love and at war.

 

Susan Power is a Standing Rock Sioux author from Chicago. She earned her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a JD from Harvard Law School. After a short career in law, she decided to become a writer, starting her career by earning an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her fellowships include an Iowa Arts Fellowship, James Michener Fellowship, Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship, Princeton Hodder Fellowship, and USA Artists Fellowship. She lives and teaches in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

 

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

by Michael Dorris

 

Michael Dorris has crafted a fierce saga of three generations of Indian women, beset by hardships and torn by angry secrets, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of kinship. Starting in the present day and moving backward, the novel is told in the voices of the three women: fifteen-year-old part-black Rayona; her American Indian mother, Christine, consumed by tenderness and resentment toward those she loves; and the fierce and mysterious Ida, mother and grandmother whose haunting secrets, betrayals, and dreams echo through the years, braiding together the strands of the shared past.

 

Michael Dorris' fiction includes A Yellow Raft in Blue WaterThe Cloud ChamberThe Crown of Columbus, coauthored with Louise Erdrich, and the story collection Working Men. Among his nonfiction works are The Broken Cord, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a collection of essays, Paper Trail.

 

Love Medicine 

by Louise Erdrich

 

The stunning first novel in Louise Erdrich's Native American series, Love Medicine tells the story of two families -- the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. Written in Erdrich's uniquely poetic, powerful style, it is a multigenerational portrait of strong men and women caught in an unforgettable drama of anger, desire, and the healing power that is love medicine.

 

Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

 

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.

 

Janet Campbell Hale (born January 11, 1946, Riverside, California) is a Native American writer. Her father was a full-blood Coeur d'Alene, and her mother was of Kootenay, Cree and Irish descent. Her work often explores issues of Native American identity and discusses poverty, abuse, and the condition of women in society. She wrote Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter, which includes a discussion of the Native American experience as well as stories from her own life. She also wrote The Owl's Song, The Jailing of Cecilia Capture and Women on the Run. Janet Campbell Hale currently lives on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in De Smet, Idaho.

 

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