5 Important Native American Authors You Simply Must Read

5 Important Native American Authors You Simply Must Read

If you're looking to make your bookshelf a little more accurate and inclusive, make sure to grab the works of these amazing Native American authors.  

How diverse is your bookshelf?

No, this isn't about your collection of sci-fi novels and self-help guides.

Instead, who are the people telling the stories you read?

Inclusion is a growing trend in all parts of culture. Businesses are realizing how limited the perspectives they offer were. This can be seen in Hollywood. Billion-dollar blockbusters are now being built-around women and people of color.

The literary world is also changing. There's been an increase in bestselling authors from a variety of cultures. While the Stephen Kings of the world aren't going anywhere, writers of all kinds are gaining well-deserved shelf-space.

Not to be overlooked are the contributions of Native American authors. The following offer unique perspectives and choices. They're must-reads for those looking to expand their tastes.


Thomas King

Much in the same way that Faulkner captured the language of the American south, Thomas King's stories often use the voice of the contemporary Native American.

Born in Sacramento, CA, King now lives in Canada, where he continues to write. He's also active politically. He's critical of the governments' treatment of Aboriginals and the lack of respect toward tribal lands.

His style combines traditional oral storytelling and more conventional narrative structures. Conversational in tone, narrators will to speak directly to the reader. He often uses humor to hide the more serious themes of his stories. His relaxed way of speaking balances out the harsh realities he never fails to address. 

A great place to start is Green Grass, Running Water. It uses a cyclical structure to tell a story about the beginning of the world through to the end. Published in 1993 it was recognized for its unconventional narrative and plotting.

He has many other fiction and non-fiction books and continues to write to this day.

Sale
The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Indigenous Americas)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • King, Thomas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 184 Pages - 06/13/2008 (Publication Date) - Univ Of Minnesota Press (Publisher)

Louise Erdrich

Hailing from Minneapolis, MN, Erdrich is an Anishinaabe writer. She's written children's books and poetry but is best known for her novels.

Her work often explores her Native American heritage and culture. Yet, her novel The Master Butcher's Singing Club is about a German World War 1 vet living in the USA. This is owing to her father's German background.

Her 2009 crime novel The Plague of Doves was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It explores an unsolved crime and the effect it has on a small North Dakota town. 

Her follow-up, 2012's The Round House carries the theme of injustice and revenge. Taking place in another North Dakota reservation, the book one the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.

Sale
The Plague of Doves: A Novel (P.S.)
  • Erdrich, Louise (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 05/12/2009 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)
Sale
The Night Watchman: Pulitzer Prize Winning Fiction
  • Erdrich, Louise (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 03/23/2021 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

Gerald Vizenor

Another Anishinaabe writer from Minnesota, Gerald Vizenor is both a writer and a scholar. He's Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkley, as well as the author of more than 30 books.

Vizenor's writing drew attention in its use of dystopian fiction to explore Native matters. His debut novel Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles explores a world devastated by oil extraction. Originally published as Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart, it was groundbreaking in its approach.

It's not only criticism of Western capitalism. He also examines the strict belief systems of many Native tribes. He challenges the lack of civility and cooperation many tribes have with each other.

These are themes he revisits through later novels. He uses traditional storytelling to explore Aboriginal cultures in a postmodern way. He examines how perceptions form, and confronts their limitations.

Sale
Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Gerald Vizenor (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 191 Pages - 12/01/1999 (Publication Date) - Bison Books (Publisher)

Stephen Graham Jones

Influenced by the work of Vizenor, Stephen Graham Jones lives in the world of genre fiction. His work is often categorized as horror, crime fiction, and sci-fi. However, his approach is experimental.

Before he was 50, he already had more than 20 books published. His work has appeared in magazines like Asimov's Weird Tales and The Magazine of Bizzaro Fiction. He's received also a Bram Stoker Award winner. 

This approach can be seen in Ledfeather, a story that begins in 1883. A young Blackfoot man discovers letters from a government agent assigned to his reservation. So begins an existential examination of historical decisions on a community.

It's unique in its use of a time-bending narrative that uses the trappings of genre to make its point. The narrative is dense, challenging readers to keep up with the story Jones is telling.

Sale
The Only Good Indians: A Novel
  • Jones, Stephen Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 01/26/2021 (Publication Date) - S&S/Saga Press (Publisher)
Sale
My Heart Is a Chainsaw (1) (The Indian Lake Trilogy)
  • Jones, Stephen Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 03/29/2022 (Publication Date) - S&S/Saga Press (Publisher)

Joy Harjo

Prolific in the arts, Joy Harjo is an accomplished musician, author, and poet. Born in Tusla, OK, Harjo's work explores the difficulties of her upbringing. Her writing follows the tradition of oral storytelling and uses symbolism to shape themes. 

Her best-known book is Crazy Brave: A Memoir, which details her journey from Tusla through her career in the arts and activism. She covers not only the influence of family but the necessity to break free from it to discover oneself.

It's a detailed look at how creativity and spirituality aren't just inspired by culture but sometimes grow in spite of it, too. It's an unflinching look at the realities facing women in Native communities. 

Sale
Poet Warrior: A Memoir
  • Harjo, Joy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 08/09/2022 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)
Sale
Crazy Brave: A Memoir
  • Harjo, Joy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 07/29/2013 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Native American Authors: Final Thoughts

With book retailers looking to highlight their best-sellers, too often other works are pushed aside. Categorization means that different works are often shared under a single label. Diverse as they may be, surface commonalities define them.

This is especially true for Native American authors. Rather than representing a single genre, the above writers offer a diverse collection of work. From memoirs to poetry to horror, all subjects are covered.

What's most fascinating is that as varied as their styles and topics are, they're all informed by shared experiences. They all use the Aboriginal experience as a launching point. From there, however, their stories go in radically different directions. 

Still, as prolific as the above authors are, they're but a small sample of the number of Native writers. There are countless others, whether writing traditional works or penning young adult fantasies.

But if you're looking to grow your reading list, the above five authors are a great starting point.

 

Last Updated on May 21, 2024 by Paul G


4 Comments on “5 Important Native American Authors You Simply Must Read”

  • Avatar for William Riddle

    William Riddle

    says:

    I was surprised that Ray Young Bear from the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa was not included in your list. Maybe, your list should be expanded and updated to “10 Important Native American Authors”, so Ray Young Bear can receive some well deserved recognition

  • Avatar for Karen B

    Karen B

    says:

    Louise Erdrich is a wonderful writer and I highly recommend her books. I own her first books but haven’t had a chance to read her more recent endeavors.

  • Avatar for Robert

    Robert

    says:

    I recently read Richard Wagamese – Medicine Walk and it’s one of my favorite books. Richard is Ojibwe from Canada, an eloquent writer and should be a house-hold name in the USA.

  • Avatar for Darla Hitchcock

    Darla Hitchcock

    says:

    I’m glad to learn about these authors. I’ve read and loved Louise Erdrich, have heard of Joy Harjo, but the other 3 were unknown to me. I’m especially excited to learn about Vizenor and Jones, as spec-fic is one of my go to genres.
    Wish you would’ve made mention of Tommy Orange. He’s only got one book under his belt, but There There was a breakout success, earning Orange a PEN/Hemingway Award, an American Book Award, and a Pulitzer nomination. It’s an especially interesting book in that it centers on the lives of urban Indians.
    Thanks for the article. My bookshelf is waiting!

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