The Mohegan Medicine Woman writes speculative fiction. How cool is that?
Although still quite young, and incredibly busy with other work, Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel has published several books, some of them out of print and hard to get (sound familiar?): a short tribal history, The Lasting of the Mohegans (1995); a history of her family of Mohegan women leaders, Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon (2000); and, with Joseph Bruchac, a children’s book, Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People (1997).
More recently, Zobel has been working quite seriously on fiction (she already has a Master’s degree in History but has also undertaken an MFA in creative writing). Two novels feel like they should be part of a trilogy: the futuristic Oracles (2004) and the Victorian Gothic Fire Hollow (2010). Both are set among the fictional Yantuck tribe, whose land, people and traditions look quite a bit like the Mohegans’; both follow young medicine people in training; and both read like environmental histories/omens.
In Oracles, the last casino has gone down in flames (literally and figuratively). With deforestation nearly complete, some of the elders are left stewarding the small stand of surviving trees, and worrying that their medicine plants have become less abundant and effective. Meanwhile, busloads of children and New Agers trek up Yantuck Mountain to try to see or take what they can from traditional ecological knowledge and spirituality.
As though adding GIS layers into a map of Native space, Zobel visits the Yantucks in an earlier period in Fire Hollow. Young Wolf Weekum is sent to school with a mysterious schoolmaster; I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but will say that Zobel plays with a local legend of one Jeremiah Shumway, who was murdered and fed to local hogs. Both books show Native people (especially Native medicine women) keeping their traditions alive while keeping up with cultural changes, and both are really witty and imaginative. There are a few good Native writers starting to work with speculative fiction (especially Daniel Heath Justice, who's Cherokee), but I don’t know of any novels quite like Oracles or Fire Hollow.
If you’re motivated to read either one of these books, please join our reading group on Goodreads.com. I hear Zobel is working on a young adult novel now; I also hear she is going to be reading from her work, along with several other interesting local writers like Larry Crow Mann and Joan Tavares Avant, at the New England American Studies Association conference on November 4 in Plimoth.