Native American Literature: Other Sources

A mind boggling number of books, articles, records and tapes await the student who wishes to extend his readings in American Indian oral and written literature beyond the four tribal groups included in this collection. For those who wish to continue their readings with a tribal focus, George P. Murdock's Ethnographic Bibliography of North America, published by the Yale University Press and regularly updated, offers comprehensive bibliographies for each of the North American tribes. A more useful bibliography for the student of literature is Anna Lee Stensland's Literature by and about the American Indian: An Annotated Bibliography, first published by the National Council of Teachers of English in 1973 and revised in 1979. Organized by categories, it contains an author index.

The list we have put together here is organized by genre: oral narrative, song, speeches, fiction, autobiography, and poetry. A few general works are mentioned at the end of the list along with a selection of magazines and journals.

Oral narrative

Tribal. The best collections of native American stories from oral tradition tend to focus on a single tribe or even a single narrator. Edmund Nequatewa's Truth of a Hopi (1936; rpt. Flagstaff: Northland Press, 1967), Ethelou Yazzie's Navajo History (Tsaile: Navajo Community College Press, 1974), Paul Radin's The Trickster (1956; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1972), Dennis Tedlock's Finding the Center: Narrative Poetry of the Zuni Indians (1972; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), and Ekkehart Malotki's Hopitutuwutsi: Hopi Tales (Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press, 1978) are all available and exemplary. N. Scott Momaday's The Way To Rainy Mountain (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1969) is centered on a collection of stories Momaday gathered from his Kiowa kinsmen.

Jarold Ramsey's Coyote Was Going There (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977) succeeds with a regional focus. It is limited to "Indian literature of the Oregon Country." Among collections with a national scope the best is John Bierhorst's The Red Swan: Myths and Tales of the American Indians (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976). It is organized by topics. Stith Thompson's Tales of the North American Indians (1929; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968) is valuable for its voluminous notes.

For writing about native American oral narratives, N. Scott Momaday's "The Man Made of Words," in Indian Voices (San Francisco: Indian Historian Press, 1970), pp. 44-84, is a good place to begin. In the essay Momaday weaves his personal insights into the oral tradition around more general questions and generous selections from his own work. Melville Jacobs' The Content and Style of an Oral Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959) is an exhaustive study of some Clackamas Chinook narratives told by Mrs. Victoria Howard. Barre Toelken gives a very sensitive reading of a very funny Navajo Coyote story in "The Pretty Language of Yellowman," Genre, 2 (1969), pp. 211-235. Linguist Dell Hymes has for the last decade sought to "rescue" native north Pacific coast narratives from the archive and to "restore" them to native Americans by retranslating them. His efforts have thus far appeared only in relatively inaccessible academic journals. "Louis Simpson's 'the Deserted Boy'," Poetics, 5 (1976), pp. 119-155, is one example. Fred McTaggart's discussion of Mesquakie stories Wolf That I Am (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976) is attractive for the personal quality of the understandings it reaches. Among all, I find Dennis Tedlock's "Pueblo Literature: Style and Verisimilitude," in New Perspectives on the Pueblos (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972), pp. 219-242, to be the most enlightening and satisfying discussion of native American oral narrative.

Personal narratives. The personal narratives of native American people have commonly come to us in an "as told to" format. Perhaps the best known of these is Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux as told through John Neihardt. First published in 1932,"discovered" by Carl Jung in the 1950's, and re-issued by the University of Nebraska Press in 1961, it continues to enjoy a wide audience. A good complement is Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972). Written by John Fire/Lame Deer and Richard Erodes, it presents "the life of a Sioux Medicine Man." Another readable pair of personal narratives tell the life story of a Winnebago brother and sister. The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian (1920; rpt. New York: Dover, 1963) was told to Paul Radin and Mountain Wolf Woman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966) to Nancy Oestreich Lurie. Among southwestern peoples Ruth Underhill's Papago Woman (1936; rpt. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1979) is clear and powerful. Hopi-Tewa Albert Yava's Big Falling Snow (New York: Crown Publishers, 1978), edited and annotated by Harold Courlander, is very readable, as is Hopi Helen Sekaquaptewa's Me and Mine (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969). Stories of Traditional Navajo Life and Culture (Tsaile: Navajo Community College Press, 1978), edited by Broderick Johnson, contains brief, but full, personal narratives from thirteen Navajo men and women.

Robert Sayre's "Vision and Experience in Black Elk Speaks," College English, 32 (1971), pp. 509-535, is an unusually helpful discussion of Black Elk's autobiography. William F. Smith's "American Indian Autobiography," American Indian Quarterly, 2 (1975), pp. 237-245, offers perspectives on a number of native American personal narratives.


I Have Spoken: American History Through the Voices of the Indian (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1971), compiled by Virginia Irving Armstrong, is a balanced collection of speeches given by American Indians between 1609 and 1971 for both Indian and non-Indian audiences. Peter Nabokov includes many eloquent native American statements in his "anthology of Indian and white relations," Native American Testimony: First Encounter to Dispossession (New York: Harper and Row, 1979).


Appreciating songs as songs when they come to us as printed words on a page is a perilous undertaking. Before getting too much involved with any of the print collections listed here, it would be a good idea to seek out some of the fine sound recordings of American Indian song widely available. Indian House Records, P. 0. Box 462, Taos, New Mexico 87571; Folkways Records, 43 West 61st Street, New York, New York 10023; and Canyon Records, 4143 North Sixteenth Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85016 all publish catalogues with rich native American listings. The Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 specializes in early historic recordings. They are in the midst of a project designed to prepare materials from their archives so that they may be used by Indian people. Color videotapes of native American songs being performed and discussed by performers in their home communities are available from the Division of Media and Instructional Services, University of Arizona, Tucson. Among the programs available are "By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs," "Seyewailo: The Flower World: Yaqui Deer Songs," and "Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems."

Most collections of "American Indian poetry," that is, the words of American Indian songs, derive from the work of ethnologists and folklorists published in inaccessible journals and series. Serious students should look at some of these collections. The work of Frances Densmore is a good place to begin. Papago Music, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 90 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1929) is one of nearly two dozen such collections Ms. Densmore gathered from various tribes. Washington Matthews' The Night Chant (New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1902) gives an authoritative account of the complex song cycles of the Navajo Night Chant. Matthews' translations have been used in countless literary works in recent years, most notably in N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (1968). A new edition of the Night Chant songs with helpful annotation is given in John Bierhorst's Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974). Herbert J. Spinden's Songs of the Tewa (New York: Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts, 1933) is a moving collection of song texts with a helpful interpretive essay. Ruth Underhill's Singing for Power: the Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938) contains poetic translations along with enough commentary to give readers a real appreciation of the place of songs and song making in Papago life.

Out of the many anthologies of American Indian song/poems two stand out. Natalie Burlin Curtis' The Indians' Book (1907; rpt. New York: Dover, 1968) contains songs Curtis recorded herself from tribes throughout the country. It is unique among other anthologies for the inclusion of musical notation for each song. A. Grove Day's The Sky Clears: Poetry of the American Indians (1951; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964) includes both song texts and commentary on them organized by area: Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, and so on. The highly imaginative "workings" of New York poet Jerome Rothenberg found in his Shaking the Pumpkin and elsewhere are billed as "traditional poetry of the Indian North Americas." They are emphatically not; and, if it is American Indian expression readers seek, they should avoid Rothenberg and his many imitators. See William Bevis' evaluation of Rothenberg and other poet/"translators" in "American Indian Verse Translations," College English, 35 (1974), pp. 693-703. Another good evaluation of translations of song/poems is Dell Hymes' "Some North Pacific Coast Poems: a Problem in Anthropological Philology," American Anthropologist, 67 (1965), pp. 316-341, an essay of wider interest than its title suggests, Paula Gunn Allen's essay "The Sacred Hoop" in A. Chapman's Literature of the American Indians (New York: New American Library, 1975), pp. 111-135, provides very useful perspectives for readers new to native American literature.


Contemporary native American writing finds many of its deepest roots in the varied writing systems used by native peoples prior to European contact. A good collection and discussion of these early native texts is Gordon Brotherston's Image of the New World (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979). Garrick Mallery's Picture-Writing of the American Indians (1893; rpt. New York: Dover, 1972) is a classic study.

Simon Pokagon's Queen of the Woods (Hartford, Michigan: C. H. Engle Publisher, 1899) is said to be the first novel published by a native American. Pokagon's narrative was called by his publisher"a romance of real life by the last hereditary chief of the Pottawattomies." The novels of John Joseph Matthews, Sundown (New York: Longmans, 1934); John Okison, Brothers Three (New York: Macmillan Co., 1935); and D'Arcy McNickle, Runner in the Sun (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1954) and The Surrounded (1936; rpt. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1978) are well worth reading.

N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (New York: Harper and Row, 1968) won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 and is probably the best known American Indian novel. It has been followed by a number of superb novels by American Indian authors. James Welch has published two novels set on the northern Plains: Winter in the Blood (New York: Harper and Row, 1974) and The Death of Jim Loney (New York: Harper and Row, 1979). Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (New York: Viking, 1977) is set in Navajo and Pueblo communities in New Mexico. Silko's Storyteller, which will be published in 1980, collects her shorter work into a unified statement. Gerald Vizenor's Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart (Saint Paul, Minn.: Truck Press, 1978) is an exciting novel, as is Hyemeyohsts Storm's Seven Arrows (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), if only for the controversy it has stirred.

The Man To Send Rain Clouds (New York: Viking, 1974), edited by Kenneth Rosen, is a collection of short stories by contemporary American Indian writers. Simon J. Ortiz's Howbah Indians, a collection of short stories, was printed by Blue Moon Press, c/o Dept. of English, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson 85721.

Charles Larson's American Indian Fiction (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1978) is the only book-length study of American Indian novels by American Indians. It is a useful bibliographic guide.


Indian people have written a number of superb autobiographies without an anthropologist as intermediary. In 1900 Omaha Indian Francis LaFlesche published an account of his days as a schoolboy at the Presbyterian mission school on the Omaha reservation. The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe (1900; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963) is as moving a portrait of boarding school life as has ever appeared. Sioux writer Charles Eastman wrote effectively of his life in several books. Indian Boyhood (1902; rpt. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1972) is a good place to begin. Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday's memoir The Names (New York: Harper and Row, 1976) is among the best recent native American autobiographies.


Duane Niatum's Carriers of the Dream Wheel (New York: Harper and Row, 1975) contains substantial selections of the work of the best contemporary American Indian writers. Kenneth Rosen's Voices of the Rainbow: Contemporary Poetry by American Indians (New York: Viking Press, 1975) is well edited and representative. A third general anthology of contemporary native American poetry is The First Skin Around Me: Contemporary American Tribal Poetry edited by James L. White in 1976 for The Territorial Press, P. 0. Box 775, Moorhead, Minnesota 56560.

Few works by early Indian poets are in print and available. Creek poet Alexander Lawrence Posey wrote under the pen name Chinnubbie Harjo in the late nineteenth century. The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Topeka, Kansas: Crane Publishing Co., 1910) is difficult to find but worth the effort.

Simon J. Ortiz has published two books of poems which speak eloquently of his Acoma heritage: Going for the Rain (New York: Harper and Row, 1976) and The Good Journey (Berkeley: Turtle Island, 1977). Leslie Silko's Laguna Woman was first published by the Greenfield Press in 1972; it will be incorporated in her new collection Storyteller (forthcoming 1980). N. Scott Momaday's The Gourd Dancer (New York: Harper and Row, 1976) is a collection of Momaday's best work. James Welch's Riding the Earthboy 40 (1971; rpt. New York: Harper and Row, 1977) contains powerful poems.

A number of other writers have printed work with one or another of the small presses around the country. The Blue Cloud Quarterly, Blue Cloud Abbey, Marvin, South Dakota 57251 regularly prints chapbooks by native American poets. Maurice Kenny's Strawberry Press, P. 0. Box 451, Bowling Green Station, New York, New York 10004 also prints many native American poets in a continuing broadside series.

Kenneth M. Roemer's "Bear and Elk: the Nature(s) of Contemporary Indian Poetry," Journal of Ethnic Studies, 5 (1977), pp. 69-79, defines understandings of the diversity of contemporary American Indian poetic expression. Simon J. Ortiz's essay "Song/Poetry and Language," Sun Tracks, 3 (1977), pp. 9-12, is also very helpful.


Akwesasne Notes, Mohawk Nation, Rooseveltown, New York is a monthly news oriented publication. The back page of each issue is regularly devoted to native American poetry. The American Indian Historical Society, 1451 Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, California 94117 prints several publications of interest: The Indian Historian is a quarterly journal usually given over to essays but poetry and short stories are occasionally printed as well. "Dreams and Drumbeats," a special poetry issue appeared in the Spring of 1976 as volume 9, number 2. Wassaja, a newspaper published by the Society, also prints poems occasionally, as does the Weewish Tree, a children's magazine. Contact II, edited by Maurice Kenny and J. G. Gosciak, is a literary magazine that regularly devotes space to native American materials. Alcheringa (Boston Univ.), a journal of 11 ethnopoetics," prints native American oral materials. Simon Ortiz is a contributing editor. The UCLA Indian Studies Program has a vigorous publishing program and prints the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, which contains occasional essays on literary topics.

The American Indian Quarterly, a journal of anthropology, history, and literature regularly prints essays on native American literature. A special issue on Leslie Silko's Ceremony will appear this year. Studies in American Indian Literatures is the newsletter of the Association for Study of American Indian Literatures. Edited by Karl Kroeber at Columbia University, it specializes in reviews and bibliographic data on native American literature.

Many other small literary magazines have devoted special issues to native American literature over the years. Two from John Milton's South Dakota Review - The American Indian Speaks (1971) and American Indian II (1974) - were among the earliest, though as early as 1918, Poetry published a special American Indian issue. Other noteworthy special issues are Nimrod, vol. 16, no. 2 (1972); Dacotah Territory 6 (1973-74); Scree 4 (1975); and recently Shantiah, vol. 4, no. 2 (1970). Geary Hobson edited an especially good native American issue for New America in 1976.

General works on American Indian Literature

There are dozens of anthologies of American Indian literature on the market and in the library. Most are hastily prepared "cut and paste" efforts and not very useful to the thoughtful reader. I find Frederick Turner's The Portable North American Indian Reader (New York: Viking, 1974) a useful general anthology. Published by a small press, Geary Hobson's The Remembered Earth: an Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (Albuquerque: Red Earth Press, P. 0. Box 26641, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87125, 1979) is as complete and thorough an anthology available. It is also reasonably priced.

The only good collection of writing about American Indian Literature presently available is Abraham Chapman's Literature of the American Indians (New York: New American Library, 1975), though several other collections will be published in the next few years. Dexter Fisher's selections for the native American section of her book The Third Woman: Minority Women Writers of the United States (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980) are especially solid and sensitive, as is her commentary throughout the book. Studies in American Indian Literatures (c/o Department of English, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027) is good for current publishing information about American Indian literature.

Larry Evers


As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 235.