Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rebirth of Native Writing Expansive Anthology Builds and Enhances the Idea of a Canon

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rebirth of Native Writing Expansive Anthology Builds and Enhances the Idea of a Canon

Article excerpt

VOICE OF THE TURTLE

American Indian Literature

1900-1970

Edited by Paula Gunn Allen

Ballantine Books, $24.50

NATIVE American literature works written by Native Americans or transcribed from their ancient tribal oral literatures - has come a long way in terms of recognition in a short period of time. Once relegated to a relatively minor branch of anthropology, it now enjoys a popular readership, celebrated contemporary authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and James Welch, and wide recognition as a kind of rich sea underlying - both supporting and challenging - America's literature of mainly European forms and ideas.

In "Voice of the Turtle" Paula Gunn Allen, a noted poet, novelist and critic, has made another important contribution to discussions of Native American literary traditions. She has collected examples of the best prose written by Native Americans between 1900-1970, the period marking on the one end the beginning of such works' appearance on the American literary scene, and on the other, another beginning - that of the current Native American renaissance featuring the emergence of writers such as Simon J. Ortiz and N. Scott Momaday, whose novel "House Made of Dawn" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

Allen has done a brilliant job of selecting and introducing each of the short stories or excerpts from longer novels or autobiographical works. The result is an entertaining collection that also educates the reader about Native American life both past and present, and about the characteristic qualities of the literature and significant contributors to it.

The collection compels us to think about the major themes dominating Native American literature. Themes of identity, for instance, are prominent in the works dealing with the troubled situation of 20th-century Indians, often caught between two conflicting worlds. Several of the writers, John M. Oskison (1907), Estelle Armstrong (1925) and Luthor Standing Bear (1928), write about the shattering experience of forced education of Indian children at boarding schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. …

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