Since joining the bookstagram community, I’ve been asked many times for recommendations of indigenous authors to check out. I’m always happy to, because I absolutely love sharing my favorites and what’s on my shelf waiting to be read. So after much stage fright, I finally did a live video where I discussed authors. I think it went pretty well… even though I was shaking in my boots. I want to thank all my viewers for tuning in and having fun with me. You made it all worth it. Anyways! This is a compilation of all the authors and books that were discussed in the livestream. At the end of the list, you will find a list of memoirs (per the request of Martina, AKA @mamalovestoread on instagram!) If you have any questions about them, definitely shoot me a message on here or at my instagram (@Erins_library). Without further ado… here we go!
Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Couer d’Alene)
Alexie is Spokane/Couer d’Alene Indian from Washington state. He’s probably most well known for his short story collections and his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (which is consistently placed on the top 10 list of banned books in the US). A great place to start with his short story collections is The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. The stories are funny, endearing, enlightening… just great all around. They’re some of his most memorable and iconic stories, as they are the basis for the movie Smoke Signals (which he wrote the screenplay for). If you’re looking for something a little darker, he’s also written Indian Killer. It’s a thriller about a serial killer rampaging the Seattle area. What I like about it is that it’s a thriller, but it also touches on race and identity. It’s a really smart book.
Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe nation)
Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (AKA Chippewa). She’s a writer of fiction & poetry and is widely considered one of the most significant Native American authors today. Erdrich has been one of my auto-buy authors for the longest time, even though I hadn’t read any of her work until last week. I just get so excited whenever I learn about indigenous authors I hadn’t heard of before! I just want to support all their work. Lucky for me, I really do enjoy her writing! I read The Round House and was enthralled. It’s told from the perspective of a young boy (13?) seeking justice for his family after a gruesome crime on their reservation. It’s part crime novel, drama, and coming-of-age story. It’s considered part of a series of books (that don’t have to be read in order) that take place in the same world and deal with similar subject matter. It’s got a lot of heart and was an excellent place to start with her work. Her most recent book (out this month!) is Future Home of the Living God and looks to be different from her previous work. It’s set in a future where evolution is reversing. They can’t figure out why women are giving birth to babies that are primitive human species. I’m really excited for it!
Thomas King (Cherokee)
King was born in California and lives in Canada. Much of his work is set there and attempts to abolish common stereotypes about Native people. He’s considered one of the foremost fictions writers about Canada’s indigenous people. I learned about his work when my university had a “one campus, one book” event where we collectively read his book The Truth about Stories. He actually came to the school as a guest speaker at the time, so I got to meet him and fangirl a little bit. He has a beautiful way with words and vivid imagery. He is excellent. A couple of works on my To-Be-Read (TBR) shelves: The Back of the Turtle, which utilizes indigenous storytelling in its telling and The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, a meditation on what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet tribe)
I learned about Jones when his novella Mapping the Interior was featured in the Nocturnal Reader’s Box (a monthly horror/speculative fiction book subscription box). I enjoyed it and loved having a new indigenous author on my radar. I’ve only heard good things about him, so I’m looking forward to reading more of his work and forming my own opinion. On my TBR shelf: Mongrels.
Joseph Boyden (Métis tribe)
I have yet to read any of Boyden’s work, but I have a couple of his works waiting on my shelves. His novels have come highly recommended to me by a friend, so I think he deserves a mention. On my TBR shelf: The Orenda and Through a Black Spruce (both part of a trilogy that doesn’t need to be read in any particular order).
Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo Tribe)
Confession: I started Ceremony, but ended up not finishing it. Not because it was a bad book, but the writing style was not jiving with me. I think it works for a lot of people though, so that shouldn’t stop you from reading it. I still want to give her work another shot, hence why she is staying on my list. On my TBR shelf: Almanac of the Dead.
Adrian C. Louis (Lovelock Paiute)
I only have one book by this author, Skins, and I’ve gone the past few years thinking I had a nonfiction book about the Sioux people on my hands. Little did I know that I had a novel on my hands. Set on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it followed the story of the relationship between two brothers (1 a rez cop and the other an alcoholic). Now that I know more about this book I’ve owned for awhile, I’m genuinely looking forward to reading it.
Ishmael Hope (Tlingit/Iñupiaq)
Hope is an Alaskan based storyteller, playwright, and poet. He has a couple of recently published poetry collections focused on Alaska Native culture and history. I’ve read Courtesans of Flounder Hill and really enjoyed it. I wish I could be more insightful, but I don’t generally read poetry so I cant analyze it. But I felt like I was getting an insight into his life. A sliver of who he is. Check it out if you are a fan of poetry!
Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Tlingit)
Dauenhauer, who has since passed away, was another Alaska based writer and Tlingit language scholar. She wrote beautiful poetry, even being named the Alaska State Writer Laureate (the first Alaska Native person to be given the honor). She won the American Book Award for Russians Born in Tlingit America, which she co-wrote with her husband Richard Dauenhauer. As a team they wrote several non-fiction books on history and language, as well as, compiled anthologies of Tlingit oratory and stories. They were an invaluable team in the Tlingit community. Books on my shelf: Life Woven with Song (a poetry collection), Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives and Haa Tuwunáagu Yís, for Healing Our Spirit (both are transcriptions and translations of recorded Tlingit speeches)
Velma Wallis (Gwich’in Athabascan)
Wallis is another Alaskan based author! I love me some Alaskans, of course. She is probably most well known for her book Two Old Women, a story of survival in the harsh Alaskan wilderness (based on a traditional Gwich’in story). It’s a great book and a quick read. So if you’re looking to increase your read count before the end of the year add this one to the list. This is what Ursula K. Let Guin had to say about it: “speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom.” Other fiction: Bird Girl & the Man who Followed the Sun
MEMOIRS on my TBR
- You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
About his complex and heartbreaking relationship with his mother
- Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog
“A gritty, convincing document of one woman’s struggle to overcome poverty and oppression in order to live in dignity as an American Indian.” -Kirkus Reviews
- Fifty Miles from Tomorrow by William Hensley
“Mr. Hensley’s account of what it’s like to grow up in the far north, fifty miles from the international date line, is rarely less than gripping.” -Dwight Garner, NY Times
- Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes
“The story of returning to … her Tlingit home after many years of wandering.”
- The Tao of Raven by Ernestine Hayes
A follow up to Blonde Indian. What happens after you return home?
- Raising Ourselves by Velma Wallis
A Gwich’in coming of age story from the Yukon River
- Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller
The first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. Tells hers and the Cherokee’s history.