American Indian Folklore Inspires Madras Writer

Article excerpt

Byline: Oregon Author by The Register-Guard

Name: Jarold Ramsey, Madras

He wrote: `Reading the Fire: The Traditional Indian Literatures of America' (University of Washington Press, 1999).

It's about: `Essays on traditional Indian narratives - finding ways of reading them as literary art.'

Was there a particular person or author who inspired you to write? `My first two elementary school teachers (at our little one-room school north of Madras), Elva Hall and Helen Hering; in high school (in Madras), Howard Hillis; and at the UO, James Hall. Later, Theodore Roethke, William Stafford, W.S. Merwin, Gary Snyder.'

Why the fascination with Indian literature and folklore? How did this become your focus in life? `My Ph.D. work in English at University of Washington focused on William Shakespeare; after I started teaching at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and began to write poetry, I took stock of what my life had given me so far to write about, and I realized that having grown up around Indians (our ranch is close to the Warm Springs reservation), traditional Western Indian culture was a part of my identity.

``But I didn't know much about those traditions, and when I delved into the anthropological and folkloric records, I found an astonishing but neglected treasury of imaginative works - essentially America's `first literature.' So in the early '70s I started work on what became `Coyote Was Going There' (University of Washington Press, 1977) and began teaching what were then pioneering courses in Indian literature.

My work on traditional Indian narratives and songs over 30 years has stimulated and informed my imagination in ways I'm probably not even aware of; as a poet and writer I am forever grateful to be under such influence, and I continue to hope that more and more readers will take notice of both the traditional Indian repertories and the works of today's Indian writers. …