Must-Read Books by Indigenous Writers
I have been trying to diversify my bookshelves as much as possible given what is going on in the world nowadays. I also think it is extremely important to read Own Voices novels in order to gain perspective from POC. Here are some books by Indigenous Writers that have completely blown my mind and have offered so much insight as to what it is like to walk in their shoes.
Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.
In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.
As she races along Canada’s Douglas Channel in her speedboat—heading toward the place where her younger brother Jimmy, presumed drowned, was last seen—twenty-year-old Lisamarie Hill recalls her younger days. A volatile and precocious Native girl growing up in Kitamaat, the Haisla Indian reservation located five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Lisa came of age standing with her feet firmly planted in two different worlds: the spiritual realm of the Haisla and the sobering “real” world with its dangerous temptations of violence, drugs, and despair. From her beloved grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, she learned of tradition and magic; from her adored, Elvis-loving uncle Mick, a Native rights activist on a perilous course, she learned to see clearly, to speak her mind, and never to bow down. But the tragedies that have scarred her life and ultimately led her to these frigid waters cannot destroy her indomitable spirit, even though the ghosts that speak to her in the night warn her that the worst may be yet to come.
A sweeping history—and counter-narrative—of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.
The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
By guest editor,
Alicia (IG: @thebookishpuff)
About the guest editor:
Alicia is currently the resident blogger over at The Bookish Puff and aspiring author. Raised under the southern sun she is a true eternal optimist with a deep love of history, stories, and a shameless addiction to caffeine. When she’s not on the internet writing about books, you can find her baking up a storm in her kitchen, watching true crime documentaries, sipping on coffee while chatting with friends, or getting lost in nature. She currently lives with her boyfriend and two crazy cats in Charleston, South Carolina in the United States.