From the visceral, historical memories of "Black Elk Speaks" to the striking imagery of Leslie Marmon Silko's "Almanac of the Dead," Native American writing spans an enormous literary terrain, a terrain as multiple and variable as the nations themselves. What draws... [more]
From the visceral, historical memories of "Black Elk Speaks" to the striking imagery of Leslie Marmon Silko's "Almanac of the Dead," Native American writing spans an enormous literary terrain, a terrain as multiple and variable as the nations themselves. What draws these writers together, however, are their common experiences with cultural conflict, with the difficulty of defining identities in the midst of loss and forgetting, and with the problem of integrating the past into an inhospitable present. Out of this complicated inheritance has come a rich body of literature that carries within it the memory of oral tradition and that confronts modernity with mythology and ritual.
"I grew up in two worlds and straddle both those worlds even now," says Native American writer N. Scott Momaday. "It has made for confusion and a richness in my life. I've been able to deal with it reasonably well, I think, and I value it." Mining the richness of confusion perhaps describes what most Native American writers excel at. They value their eclectic and conflicted history for its wealth and for the nuanced perspective it engenders.
Many Native American writers bring to their work an intense concern for the environment and a desire to illuminate, by means of the wisdom their tradition offers, its sacred and spiritual aspect. The poetry of Linda Hogan, for example, revels in the interconnectedness of nature and humanity. She transcends the limits between individuals and their environments, seeing microcosm and macrocosm as inextricably intertwined. The self, for Hogan, is a small particle that harbors within it the entire natural world: "the radiant vault of myself,/ this full and broken continent of living." The juxtaposition of fullness and fragmentation perhaps exemplifies a recurrent theme in Native American literature: the sacred continuity of all things, despite their myriad divisions.
Native American literature is as diverse, multi-tongued, and rich as its authors' heterogeneous histories. Integrating the shared elements of ritual, sacrament, and mythology with contemporary issues of identity, environmentalism, and feminism, this literature is itself a pastiche, a manner of navigating the diversity and disjunctions of the modern world. [show less]