Saturday, July 23, 2016

Debbie--have you seen LITTLE WHALE by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr.?

This morning as I started to read the Summer 2016 issue of Children & Libraries a book cover caught my eye (that's it, to the right). Inside the front cover is a page of new books for children and young adults. Little Whale is displayed.

Here's the synopsis:
Keet, a ten-year-old Tlingit Indian boy, stows away for a voyage on his father’s canoe . . . and soon finds himself caught in the middle of a wild seastorm. The story carries him far from his home village, and when he makes land, he winds up right in the middle of a dangerous dispute between two Indian clans. The story of how he copes with these surprises and extricates himself from danger is dramatic and unforgettable.
And it’s mostly true. Roy Peratrovich here builds a wonderful children’s tale on the bones of a story his own grandfather passed down. His accompanying illustrations bring the people and landscapes of Alaska—to say nothing of the adventures!—to stunning life, drawing young readers into a long-gone time when the whims of nature and man could suddenly test a boy’s courage.
I'm definitely interested in this one! The author is a member of the Raven Clan of the Tlingit Tribe of Southeast Alaska. Check out his bio. I'll get a copy and be back with a review.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Does Lane Smith's RETURN TO AUGIE HOBBLE tell us anything about his THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS?

A reader who was following the conversations about Lane Smith's There Is A Tribe of Kids wrote to ask me if I'd read his Return to Augie Hobble. Here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
The synopsis doesn't say, but as I started reading about the book, I learned that it is set in New Mexico, which could (for me) be a plus. It could be a plus for kids in New Mexico, too, including Native kids.

But, the person who wrote to me told me that Return to Augie Hobble has some Native content in it, so I started reading the book itself, wondering what I'd find.

Scattered throughout are illustrations of one kind of another, all done by Smith. In chapter four, the main character, Augie, is out after dark in the woods nearby and has a fight with a wolf-like creature. The next morning Augie feels like his face has tiny splinters on it. He uses his moms razor to shave them off. As the illustration on the next page tells us, he's got bits of toilet paper on his chin and neck because he's nicked himself with that razor.

Augie gets to work early, so is sitting in the break area reading a comic, waiting for his shift to start. Moze, another employee arrives. Augie gets up, but (p. 68-69):
He [Moze] pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again. 
Interesting, isn't it? Let's look at that passage, in light of the discussions of his There Is a Tribe of Kids. The discussions are about some of the illustrations in the final pages of the book. Here's three:


Some wonder if Smith meant to depict kids playing Indian. Some say these kids aren't playing Indian. Smith hasn't responded (as far as I know) to any of the discussions. Some wonder if--as he drew the illustrations--he was aware that they could be interpreted as kids playing Indian. That wondering presumes that he is aware of the decades long critical writings of stereotyping, and in this case, stereotyping of Native peoples.

With Return to Augie Hobble, we know--without a doubt--that he does, in fact, know about issues of stereotyping.

How should we interpret that passage in Return to Augie Hobble?

Amongst the recent threads in writers' networks, is that if a writer is going to create a character who stereotypes someone, there ought to be some way (preferably immediately) for a reader to discern that it is a stereotype. One method is to have a bad-guy-character make the stereotypical remarks, because with them being delivered by a bad-guy, readers know they're not-good-remarks.

Does Smith do that successfully? I'll copy that passage here, for convenience (so you don't have to scroll back up):
He pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again. 
In the passage above, it is Moze (a bad guy character) who is speaking. From "hits me again" the narrative leaves this whole Indian thing behind as they talk about other things.

I find the passage confusing. It feels like there's something missing between "Toilet paper, twerp." and "He goes, "woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk." What do you think? Is something missing there?

Confusion aside, I think the passage doesn't do what, I assume, Smith meant it to do. Moze is delivering remarks in that humorous style Smith is praised for using.  Will kids pick up on his message (assuming he meant to use Moze to teach kids that dancing around that way is not ok)? Or, does his "PC, Mac" get in the way of that understanding? With "PC, Mac" the focus is on computers, not stereotypes. That kind of word play is a big reason people like Smith's writing.

Back when I taught children's literature at the University of Illinois, I selected Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as a required reading (Smith is the illustrator; the text is by Jon Scieszka). It is a terrific way to teach kids about differing points of view. When I think about that book, I know that Smith understands different points of view and how they matter.

I think it fair to say Lane Smith is a master at conveying the importance of that all important point of view. As his Augie Hobble tells us, he's aware of problems with the ways that Native peoples are depicted. That is part of why I find his There Is a Tribe of Kids disappointing.

What are your thoughts? Knowing he is aware of issues of stereotyping, what do you make of what he did in There Is a Tribe of Kids? And, does what he did in Augie Hobble work?

__________

From time to time I curate a set of links about a particular book or discussion. I'm doing that below, for There Is a Tribe of Kids. The links are arranged chronologically by date on which they were posted/published. If you know of ones I ought to add, please let me know. I will insert it below (as you'll see, I'm noting the date on which I add it to the list in parenthesis).

Sam Bloom's Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids posted on July 8, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Debbie Reese's Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS posted on July 9, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Debbie Reese's Lane Smith's new picture book: THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) posted on July 14, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Roxanne Feldman's A Tribe of Kindred Souls: A Closer Look at a Double Spread in Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS posted on July 17, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Roger Sutton's Tribal Trials posted on July 18, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Elizabeth Bird's There Is a Tribe of Kids: The Current Debate posted on July 19, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

State of Oklahoma, 2005, Resolution Commending Tim Tingle

Amongst Tim Tingle's many books is Walking the Choctaw Road. Parts of it are heartrending.

First published in 2003 by Cinco Puntos Press, it consists of twelve stories, some of which evolved into his picture books.

I just came across something I didn't know about. In 2005, the State of Oklahoma's 50th Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 1025, commending Tim. I didn't know Tim, back then, but he was already doing important work that was being recognized--in this case, by the State of Oklahoma. A belated congratulations, Tim!

For AICL's readers, I'm reproducing the text, here, from the pdf.





*****


STATE OF OKLAHOMA
1st Session of the 50th Legislature (2005)

HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 1025
By: Carey of the House
and
Gumm of the Senate


AS INTRODUCED 

A Concurrent Resolution commending Tim Tingle for his 
dedication to Native American cultures and to 
preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation; and 
directing distribution. 

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle has dedicated his life to collecting and preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation and other Native American cultures; and WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, as a renowned folklorist and storyteller, honors the voices of many Choctaws by presenting stories that represent their history, spirit, and beliefs; and

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, through his inspiring book Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory, has translated twelve of these stories into written versions that captivate readers and transport them to a magical place where truthfulness, generosity, bravery, patience, dignity, courage, tolerance, faith and working toward the good resonate; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory has garnered numerous regional, national and international awards; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory was selected by popular vote to be the “one book” all Oklahomans read and discuss during 2005 as part of the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Centennial Project, a concept endorsed by the Library of Congress; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory holds the national record of being the only book selected by two statewide reading projects (Oklahoma and Alaska) as the “one book” to read and discuss throughout 2005; and

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle encourages people to make connections through literature and reading by participating in more than 70 appearances at libraries, museums, community centers, and schools throughout the State of Oklahoma from June through November 2005.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 50TH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN:

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for the honor he brings to the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma by preserving and writing about Native American cultures.

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for his dedication to literature and recognizes his many contributions to building bridges between cultures and commends his courage, integrity, and commitment to high standards.

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature urges all Oklahomans to read Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory and discuss its historic perspective and cultural themes from which we may all gain strength and understanding.

THAT a copy of this resolution be distributed to Tim Tingle.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Debbie--have you seen Lane Smith's AUGIE HOBBLE?

A reader who saw my review of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids wrote to ask if I've read his Return to Augie Hobble. It got starred reviews from Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus... Published in 2015 by Roaring Book Press, here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

I was at the local library this afternoon and got a copy. As soon as I can, I'll be back with a review. It is getting bumped up on my list because it is set in New Mexico...

Debbie--have you seen Joan Crate's BLACK APPLE?

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Joan Crate's Black Apple. Published in March of 2016 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.
Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
I'll see if I can get a copy. If I do, I'll be back with a review.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lane Smith's new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry)

I love word play. Lane Smith's book is getting a lot of love for its word play, but I'm tagging his book as Not Recommended.

Here's the cover of his new book, There Is a Tribe of Kids. The blue creature to the left is meant to be a young mountain goat, or, a kid (that is the term for a baby goat). We follow the child on the right as we read There Is a TRIBE of KIDS. That child is a kid, too, of course, which tells us that Smith is doing some word play in the book. See the two sticks coming out of the child's head? See the stance the child is in? That child is playing at being a goat kid.


Note that two words in the book title are in capital letters. They go together. That's a pattern that Smith uses throughout the book, and as a former elementary school teacher, it is kind of detail that I'd love to point out to kids.

BUT.

Smith's error is using the word TRIBE on the final pages of the book, to refer to children who are playing, adorned in various ways with leaves. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's go back to the opening pages.

On the title page the child is with three kids (goats) as an adult goat looks down on them from atop a rock. On the next page, the three kids climb the rock, leaving the child alone. The child stands upright and walks away from the rock, discarding the horns.

Beneath that illustration are the words "There WAS a TRIBE of KIDS." The three kids the child was with are part of a tribe (tribe is another word for herd), but since they've left him behind, Smith uses the past tense (was).

Beneath that sentence is an illustration of the child looking across the page at a penguin. The child is shown in the same pose the penguin is in. On the next page the child is shown in the same pose as four penguins (see the illustration to the right). As we saw with the goats, the penguins leave (they go into the water and the child follows), and the text is "There was a COLONY of PENGUINS."

In the water, the child is in the midst of jellyfish. In a series of illustrations, we see the child's leaf shirt float up and then into a balloon shape, which are the shapes of jellyfish as they swim.

That's the pattern of the book. The child is with a group of some kind, and while with that group, the child's leaf clothing or body positioning emulates that group.

On some pages, the child is just shown with the group. On one page, the child sits atop a whale. A raven picks the child up off the whale's back and flies with other ravens; the raven opens its beak and for an instant the child is flying but then drops to the ground and lands on a pile of boulders. The child plays on the boulders (holding his body like one), falls headfirst into some flowering plants, and when the child is upright again, the child has leaf arms and leaf ears and a flower atop its head. The child finds elephants and then, those leaf ears are like elephant ears.

As we get to the end of the story, the child is near the ocean, which has a bed of clams. The child uses one as a bed. In the morning the child wakes, alone, abandons the leaf shirt and follows a trail of shells and finds "a TRIBE of KIDS" playing beneath and on the branches of a massive tree. There are 28 children. What are they playing? They've all got leaves on, in some way.

Here are the ones with a leaf/leaves on their heads. Coupled with the word TRIBE on that page, it looks to me like they're dressed up to play Indian. Remember the pattern of the book. The child we followed from one page to the next was (mostly) shown doing something to emulate something else.










But, writer Rosanne Parry disagrees with Sam, and with me, too, but she didn't reference me at her post, A Tribe of Book Reviewers.  My guess is that she thinks her blog post title is clever. It isn't. She thinks that Sam Bloom (see his review at Reading While White) should have
"been willing to look a little deeper, beyond just the immediate Oh no! we are insulting Native Americans again, as we have done so often in the past."
When I read that line in italics, I was incensed. She's being quite dismissive of criticism of stereotyping, bias, appropriation---all those things that white writers, including her, have done. A few years ago, I reviewed Parry's Written In Stone. There's a lot wrong with that book. She wrote to me privately to talk about my review, but I preferred the conversation to be public so that others could follow and learn from it. Many did. Parry did not. Indeed, Parry's resistance was remarkable. She was so sure that she was right to make up traditional Native stories, and right to make up petroglyphs and assign them meaning, and right to write that story because the Native kids she taught--she told us--wanted her to write a story about them. Sheesh! White savior to the rescue!

Parry had a lot more to say about Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids...

She acknowledged that tribe is a loaded word, but says that she:
"didn't immediately make the leap to Native American tribes because there are no tribes in North America who dress in garments made of leaves. Plant fibers woven into cloth, yes. Dance costumes made of pale yellow grasses, yes. But broad-leafed green plans arranged around the body as a short cloak? No."
Are you rolling your eyes? Are you flipping out at her use of "costumes"? You should be. She likes to talk about the Native kids she taught in Washington. Does she think they wore costumes?! There's more. She read through the book and
"didn't see a single reference, even an oblique one, to a Native American tribe or any tribal activity of North America. No hunting, no fishing, no fires, no tomahawks, no archery, no totem poles, no teepees, no drums, no horses, no canoes."
Again: are you rolling your eyes? Or, maybe, grinding your teeth? Or laughing at how stupid this all sounds? Or---are you reading it and thinking she's making good points? All those reactions are possible, given the widespread ignorance out there about Native people! Some get it, while others are oblivious. Parry goes on, telling us the way the kids are playing is more like the Green Man,
"an ancient mythological figure associated with the Celtic tribes." 
Oh! The kids are playing Green Man. Not Indian! (I'm being sarcastic). Parry isn't done yet, though... She tells us that the children playing on those final pages are of different colored skin tones, making the book:
"one of the most racially inclusive books on our bookstore shelves this year. Not only that, it's a racially inclusive book that isn't about slavery or civil rights or westward expansion, which often cast Black and Native American characters as victims."
Oh, yay (again, I'm being sarcastic). Then she tells us that the kids are:
"arranging shells, playing ball, swinging, sliding, climbing, dancing, running, hiding, napping" 
and that none of those actions are
"a mockery of Native Americans. If they were wearing fringed buckskins or button blankets or powwow dance costumes or had painted faces or were brandishing bows and arrows, that would be an entirely different story."
Oh. I see. (More sarcasm from me; I can't not be sarcastic about her words, and this is the fourth or fifth time I'm reading them!) There's that use of costume again. From a white woman who professes love for the Native kids she taught. She tells us that what she sees in Smith's illustrations are depictions of how kids play, and asks
"Who are we to shame them by saying this is playing Indian?"
Shame. That word is getting used a lot in children's literature discussions last year and this one, too. Us Native and people of color are being mean, shaming writers and now--Parry tells us--the way that kids play.

Sigh. Yes, some of the kids are sliding. And some are playing ball, etc. But look at the illustrations I shared above. What are we to make of them? They're not active in any way. They're just there, wearing their leaf feathers, holding staffs, standing, sitting, jewelry dangling from neck/wrist/ears... What about them?

Parry offers workshops on how to get things right. If you're a writer, avoid her. I wish I could say she's clueless, but I think she is being deliberately obtuse. She'll lead you to think your problematic story of appropriation is ok. It won't be.

I acknowledge that I'm clearly incensed with her and I anticipate lot of people coming to her defense. Parry and others (as Sam Bloom noted, There Is a Tribe of Kids is getting starred reviews) don't see--and refuse to see--the problems in the book. That's where we are in 2016.

Update, Friday July 15, 2016

See my first post on Smith's book: Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids

Part of the contentious discussion is that tribe doesn't mean Native peoples. That is, of course, true. However, in the U.S., that's what the word generally invokes. Some evidence: In preparing this review, I did a search of children's books at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, using "tribe" as the search term. The results make it clear that the word is coupled with Native peoples. I didn't include discussion of the word in this review but will discuss it in another post.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Reading While White review's Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS

Several months ago I saw the cover of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids and wondered about his use of the word tribe. Most people see the word "tribe" and think of a group of people who they view as primitive, or exotic, or primal, or... you get the picture, right? If not, open another browser window and do an image search of the word tribe. Did you do it? If yes, you saw a lot of photographs of people of color and of Native peoples, too.

In the last few weeks, I got an email from someone asking me if I'd written about that word. The person writing didn't mention Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids but may have been asking themselves the same question Sam Bloom did when he read the book. I haven't yet had a chance to look for Smith's book.

Yesterday, Sam's review of There Is a Tribe of Kids went up at Reading While White. I highly recommend you head over there and see what he has to say. On one page of the book, the kids are shown playing in a forest... and they've got leaves stuck into their hair in ways that suggest they're playing Indian. Here's that page:



Sam isn't the only one to notice that problem. He pointed to the review in the New York Times Book Review, where the reviewer wrote that this kind of play signifies wildness.

And, Sam notes that the book has gotten several starred reviews from the major children's literature review journals--journals that librarians use to purchase books. Those starred reviews will mean it is likely to be in your local library. That image, however, means There Is a Tribe of Kids is going into AICL's Foul Among the Good gallery.

Do read Sam's review, and the comment thread, too. I am especially taken with Pat's comment. She used a phrase (I'll put it in bold font) that appeals to me: "An informed reading means giving up the position of innocence that White readers enjoy when other cultures' are represented in service of an engaging story."

Sam's post and the comment thread give us a peek at what goes on behind the scenes in book reviewing. In his review, Sam wondered if the book is getting starred reviews because people like Lane Smith's work overall. Roger Sutton replied that Horn Book didn't give it a starred review, but that their discussion of the book itself included the playing Indian part that Sam's review is about, but that "the reviewer and the editors differed" with Sam's assessment, so, Horn Book recommended the book.

Roger and I have disagreed on playing Indian over and over again. Horn Book gives that activity a pass because Horn Book views it as an "extra literary" concern. Intrigued? You can read one of the more recent discussions we had: Are we doing it white?

Pat's comment is perfect. Far too many people don't want to give up their position of innocence. Playing Indian is just too much fun (they say) and it isn't racist (they insist), or inappropriate (they argue)... Indeed, some say that sort of thing honors Native peoples.

It doesn't honor anyone. It is inappropriate.

My guess is that Lane Smith didn't know it is a problem. His editor, Simon Boughton, apparently didn't know, either. If you know Smith or Boughton, I hope you ask them to think critically about playing Indian. There Is a Tribe of Kids, published by Macmillan, came out in May of 2016.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tim Tingle's Acceptance Speech for the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award

American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to bring you Tim Tingle's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award, young adult category, for The House of Purple Cedar. As is traditional within Native communities, he was given a blanket. 


Tim provided me with the photo (to the right), explaining that it was taken while he was at the Congressional National Cemetery in Washington DC, three days before the awards banquet. 

The photo was taken by Lisa Reed, editor of The Biskinik (the Choctaw nation's newspaper). Tim was reading a book he was given by the office manager of the cemetery. He was sitting beside the grave of Pushmataha, who is in Tim's next book. 

That day, the Chief of the Choctaw Nation and many others were at the Congressional National Cemetery to honor Pushmataha. The clouded expression on Tim's face is because of what a Choctaw woman gave to him that morning when he arrived at the gravesite. 

His expression, and what she gave him, is explained in his speech:


__________


On behalf of my family and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma I want to let you know what an honor it is to be here and to accept this award. We are so grateful for the work you do, to bring recognition to our work as writers. Yakoke, thank you.



House of Purple Cedar took fifteen years to complete, as my editor, Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, can confirm. It describes the struggle of Choctaws to survive and keep their homelands, in the late 1890's in what is now Oklahoma. Those of you who know my writing know that I write with hope, of "working to the good," of the power of forgiveness.

I brought something to show you today, from Congressional National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where three days ago I attended a graveside ceremony honoring the most famous Choctaw leader of all time, Chief Pushmataha. He was also a general in the United States Army and fought alongside Gen. Jackson in the War of 1812. 

Before the ceremony I met a Choctaw elder at the gravesite, a sweet woman who speaks fluent Choctaw and is kind and patient to we learners. She arrived before anyone else. She stood holding her purse with tears in her eyes. When I asked her if she was hoke, she replied, "I am so glad I arrived before the chief. Look what I found lying against Pushmataha's tombstone." She retrieved an empty plastic whiskey bottle from her purse. "Somebody left this terrible insult to our chief."

I hugged her and we both quietly cried. "I was meant to be here first," she said. "This would have ruined our graveside ceremony." We stared into each other's eyes and smiled.

"Good wins again," I said. "It is a good day to be Choctaw." We decided to keep our secret, to allow the full blessing from Chief Batton to take place. But as we approached the shuttle bus, I asked for the bottle. Not to throw away, but to keep—as a reminder that we still have much work to do. We, the writers, the librarians, the educators, we are today's warriors. We must never forget that the battle continues, the battle for respect for Native peoples.

Yakoke, thank you.