Welcome to my “Indigenous New England Literature” blog. Following Native American writers from this region has become something of an obsession for me, ever since the late 1990s, when I started teaching Native American literature at universities in Maine and New Hampshire. I wanted to include local writers in my courses, but I ran into some obstacles (and some outright lies). I’ll be discussing some of these in this blog, but mainly I’ll be writing short reviews of terrific writing that I think more people ought to be reading.
One outright lie is that Indians “vanished” from New England centuries ago, and/or that the Native people who live here today are somehow “assimilated” or “not really very Indian.” These ideas are ridiculous, but they unfortunately carry great weight in New England—in local monuments to chiefs who plunged to their deaths from mountaintops, in mainstream press coverage of casinos, and in local lore. If you want a detailed, eminently readable account of how your town local histories helped create these myths, look no further than Jean O’Brien’s book, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England. O’Brien is a first-rate historian, and in these dusty old books she has found “a New England thickly populated by ‘last’ Indians throughout the nineteenth century, and occasionally into the twentieth.”
New England is indeed thickly populated by Native Americans, none of whom can be said to be the “last of their tribe.” And a lot of them are writing, and writing really good work—interesting work, challenging work, beautiful work. But sadly, much of this writing is either invisible or hard to get. Prolific and powerful writers like Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) and Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel (Mohegan) get relatively little marketing or critical attention. Talented award-winners like Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki) see their books go out of print almost as soon as they get published. And still others have trouble getting publishers’ attention in the first place.
On this blog I’ll be sharing some of my favorite writers and letting you know how to find them and their work. Where possible I hope to interview some of them, so they can tell you first-hand about their experiences with the publishing industry, and their hopes for the future. And I always welcome feedback from readers. . .and especially from writers.