If you followed along in our April theme podcast, you’ll remember that we discussed prominent female writers within the nature writing genre. For this blog post, I wanted to highlight another group of marginalized voices within the nature writing community. Indigenous peoples throughout American history have been brutalized, talked over, and shoved aside, and yet their knowledge, cultures, and connections to nature provide some of the most profound and important narratives within the nature writing landscape. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry to essays, indigenous voices are a necessary foundation of American nature writing.
First, I wanted to discuss one of the novels that has stuck with me over the past several years as a reader. House Made of Dawn by N Scott Momoday follows Abel, a 20-something American Indian torn between two worlds: that of his father and his roots in nature, and the modern city and the call of drugs, sex, and over-indulgence. Throughout the novel, Abel goes through many struggles and transformations, some quite violent, before coming to a conclusion that will alter his life forever. I cannot sing enough praises for this book; it’s one of the most thought-provoking and disturbing books I’ve read in years. N Scott Momoday won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for House Made of Dawn in 1969.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko tells the story of Tayo, a young indigenous boy imprisoned at a Japanese internment camp during World War II. When he returns to his tribe, he begins to reconnect with nature and his heritage and shake loose the feeling of alienation and otherness that were instilled in him during his time in the internment camp. Leslie Marmon Silko won an American Book Award for Ceremony in 1980.
For readers who prefer nonfiction or enjoyed our April book pick (Mozart’s Starling), here are two more recommendations that may be more to your liking. As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker is an overview of the many struggles that the indigenous population has undergone, from food and water supply to protecting their rights to their land, religions, and cultures. Gilio Whitaker also highlights the differences and friction between indigenous environmental justice and that of a more mainstream, popularized variety.
We also mentioned Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer in our April theme podcast. As the title suggests, Kimmerer combines her knowledge as a scientist and experience as a botanist with her status as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In her book, she draws inspiration from nature and makes connections between all living creatures to suggest a wider and all-encompassing form of ecological consciousness.
Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World by Linda Hogan is a collection of essays that pinpoints different animals, myths and legends within indigenous cultures, and spaces within nature, weaving them into a massive web that binds everything together. Just like some of these other recommendations, Dwellings connects culture, nature, and land in a way that expands humanity’s perception of our planet.
Living on the Borderlines, by Melissa Michal paints a more modern picture of being indigenous from present-day perspectives. Michal gives us characters and stories on and off the reservation, discussing the modern-day implications of being a part of the Haudenosaunee people, straddling cultural lines in a society that seeks to divide based on race and heritage.
An American Sunrise is a collection of poems by Joy Harjo. Through this collection, she delves into the past that surrounds her family, discusses the forced migration of the Mvskoke tribe over two hundred years prior, and details the new beginning she creates for herself as she carves her way through the modern world. Harjo brings culture and history full circle: “Blessed are the ears of this land, for they hear cries of heartache and shouts of celebration.”
If you’re interested in more recommendations based on our April book pick, Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, check out our April discussion podcast where staff gives their personal recommendations. To learn more about the roots of nature writing (pun intended), give a listen to our April theme podcast, where we talk about founding principles like transcendentalism and ecological consciousness.
Thanks for visiting the blog and happy reading!