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A Feast of Native American Stories

A FEW native American novelists have gained a following over the years, but native American poets and short-story writers are much more difficult to find. A broader native American literary voice is slowly emerging, however, thanks to renewed attention to native American issues and to the considerable efforts of small presses, native American newspapers, and a handful of literary magazines and journals.Craig Lesley has done a commendable job of assembling and editing this revealing collection. He avoids romanticized points of view or trendy New Age approaches to native American spirituality. The anthology succeeds in retaining a clear-minded presentation of good stories, well-told. There's a hard edge to some stories because of the writers' willingness to deal head on with tough questions: alcoholism, child abuse, isolation, and poverty. But what comes through so persuasively is a spirit of survival. These stories are full of compassion and warmth, plenty of courage and dignity, and some great humor. The biographical notes show a surprising list of awards won by some of the 35 contributors; a Pulitzer Prize, Penn Awards, National Book Critics' Circle Awards, American Book Awards, to name a few. Other contributors are published here for the first time. This makes for a diverse collection, covering a broad spectrum of writing experience while revealing a cross section of American life few non-native Americans know about. Tina Freeman-Villalobos's "The Way It Was" portrays a granddaughter/grandmother relationship with great delicacy. Reading this account is like overhearing intimate details of family history during hard times. Respect for elders is a crucial force in native American life, and the grandparent bond weaves through several other stories as well. Elizabeth Woody's "Homecoming" is especially notable. Many stories derive their themes from traditional myth: for example, the anthology's lead story, "Deer Woman," by Paula Gunn Allen. Tribal history is another important theme. A chapter is included from James Welch's novel "Fools Crow," which has its roots in Blackfoot history. Clifford Trafzer's brief "Cheyenne Revenge" lacks historical context, however, and manipulates the reader with horror-story tactics that have little real impact. An effective means of revealing tribal history is found in Darryl Bebe Wilson's "Diamond Island: Alcatraz." Told in first person, and effectively structured around another grandchild/grandparent exchange, the story includes events related to escaping from the federal prison on Alcatraz Island. The grandfather's story is not so much about escape as about truth. An underlying search for truth characterizes most of these stories. There's good, polished writing in this anthology, with only occasional awkwardness or predictability. Taken as a whole, this is an important collection, replete with memorable characters and situations. Lesley offers a fine native American feast - good home cooking for native American and non-native American alike.

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