Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition

Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition

Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition

Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition


Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, as a history of a Native nation, or as an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable.

Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and asked Neihardt to share his story with the world. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind.

This complete edition features a new introduction by historian Philip J. Deloria and annotations of Black Elk’s story by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie. Three essays by John G. Neihardt provide background on this landmark work along with pieces by Vine Deloria Jr., Raymond J. DeMallie, Alexis Petri, and Lori Utecht. Maps, original illustrations by Standing Bear, and a set of appendixes rounds out the edition.


I first read Black Elk Speaks in the early 1970s. I still have the actual copy (published by Pocket Books in 1972) and it sits beside me now, binding cracked, cover worn, pages loose. Why did I pick up the book that first time? Family legacy issues, to be sure, for my grandfather had known Black Elk, and my father made sure I knew it. But just as important was the way Simon and Schuster (of which Pocket Books was an imprint) framed the book as a “must read” for seekers and aspiring mystics. That category easily expanded to include anxious young people such as myself who were contemplating seriously for the first time the meanings of life. Black Elk’s great vision and his other spiritual experiences—so compellingly narrated “through” the Nebraska poet laureate John G. Neihardt—were to be taken as guideposts and exemplars of a richer, more engaged transcendent life.

The book’s cover featured an odd composite image built around the sad, wise, brown face of an old American Indian man. Disembodied and framed by a brown circle on a black background, the face floats above the shirtless figure of a younger man, arms outstretched in prayer. This young man explodes out of a blue circle that overlaps the brown and is connected by two strips of “Indian design.” His arms echo the lines of the brown circle and the effect is powerful: a complicated sense of relationship between a young man’s sacred experience and an older man’s spiritual wisdom. For those in the know, the complicated image has an odd edge of realism. For the man is indeed Black Elk, with his old face and the “Indian design” drawn based on a photograph taken by Joseph Epes Brown in 1947.

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