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literature

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Native North American Literature  
 
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Anthologies

Two Native lesbians--Barbara Cameron (Hunkpapa), cofounder of Gay American Indians, and Chrystos (Menominee)--appeared in Cherríe Moraga's and Gloria Anzaldúa's anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, published in 1981.

Two years later eleven Native lesbians appeared in Beth Brant's (Bay of Quinte Mohawk) landmark collection, A Gathering of Spirit: Writing and Art by North American Indian Women (1983; 1984). This was the first anthology of Native writing edited entirely by a Native person. The collection included poems and short prose from Cameron, Chrystos, Allen, Janice Gould (Koyangk'auwi Maidu), Terri Meyette (Yaqui), Mary Moran (Métis), Kateri Sardella (Micmac), Vickie Sears (Cherokee), Anita Valerio (Blood/Chicana), and Midnight Sun (Anishnawbe).

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The first specifically gay and lesbian collection of Native writing was Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology, edited by Will Roscoe in 1988. Contents ranged from traditional myths and tales to contemporary poetry, short stories, essays, interviews, and an excerpt from Allen's novel-in-progress, Raven's Road.

Contributors included Brant, Chrystos, Kenny, Midnight Sun, Gould, Randy Burns (Northern Paiute), Clyde Hall/M. Owlfeather (Shoshone-Métis/Cree), Erna Pahe (Navajo), Debra S. O'Gara (Tlingit), Lawrence William O'Connor (Winnebago), Ben the Dancer (Yankton Sioux), Daniel-Harry Steward (Wintu), Anne Waters (Seminole/Choctaw/Chickasaw/Cherokee), Daniel Little Hawk (Lakota/Southern Cheyenne/Aztec), Tala Sanning (Oglala Sioux), Nola M. Hadley (Appalachian/Cherokee), Carole LaFavor (Ojibwa), Joe Dale Tate Nevaquaya (Comanche/Yuchi), and Richard La Fortune (Yupik Eskimo).

Chrystos

Chrystos is one of the most popular lesbian Native writers today, having published three books of poems and contributed to numerous literary magazines. Denouncing white rip-offs of Native culture is a recurring theme of her work. As she writes in "Winter Count," "Now we are rare & occasionally cherished as Eagles / though not by farmers who still potshot us for sport." But when it comes to her love life, Chrystos can switch emotional registers to write poems of exquisite tenderness and eroticism.

Beth Brant

Beth Brant continues to publish both stories and poems, while tirelessly promoting the work of other Native writers. She typically draws on personal experiences and is at her best when recounting with wry humor the foibles of her Mohawk relatives or giving a lesbian twist to the traditional Coyote story. She has received an Ontario Arts Council Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship.

Other Native lesbian authors who have published book-length works include Vickie Sears and Janice Gould.

Clyde Hall (M. Owlfeather)

Of the contemporary gay male Native writers, Clyde Hall ("M. Owlfeather") is one of the more active. His poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous venues, including Living the Spirit. Maintaining a wide network of literary contacts, Hall has influenced such non-Indian writers as Tom Spanbauer and Winfred Blevins.

Terry Tafoya, David Moses, and William Merasty

Another active writer is Terry Tafoya (Taos/Warm Springs), who has published both traditional and contemporary stories as well as poetry and essays. His play, Good Medicine, received an award at the 1985 Minority Playwrights' Festival for the Group Theatre in Seattle.

Canadian Daniel David Moses (Delaware) has had several plays produced and published, along with collections of his poetry. His play, The Dreaming Beauty, was a winner in the 1990 Theatre Canada National Playwriting Competition. William Merasty (Cree) has also produced a play in Canada.

The Relationship with Other Indian Writers

Native lesbian and gay writers share with other Indian writers a sense of belonging to both the natural world and a close-knit community, of survival against enormous odds, and of a proud (sometimes idealized) past. Irony and self-mocking humor are common. Also typical is a path of development that includes both alienation from and a return to the tribal community.

At the same time, lesbian and gay Native writing is unique in its celebration of eroticism. One finds this especially in the work of Paula Gunn Allen; Chrystos, who has published a volume of erotic poetry, In Her I Am (1993); and Judith Mountain-Leaf Volborth (Blackfoot/Comanche), who is currently working on a collection of lesbian sensual verse.

At the same time, one is also likely to find a heightened sense of the internal problems of Native communities--whether alcoholism, violence, sexism, or homophobia.

But the bicultural experience of lesbian and gay Native authors can also be the source of powerful connections. In "A Long Story," Beth Brant juxtaposes an account of Indian mothers at the end of the nineteenth century whose children are forcibly taken to boarding schools with that of a contemporary lesbian mother who loses her children in a custody battle.

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