REVIEWS FROM DECEMBER 2000
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Robin Riley. The Heart as a Drum: Continuance and Resistance
in American Indian Poetry. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan
Press, 2000. 252 pp. ISBN 0-472-11077-2, $42.50.
volume presents an analytical survey of contemporary American
Indian poets and their works. Borrowing from current theories
of Anzaldúa’s borderlands and Bakhtin’s dialogics, Fast
sets up a thematic rubric, then inserts examples from a wide spectrum
of poets to illustrate her premise.
themes of Fast’s study derive from patterns and issues in many
Native cultures: orality, community, audience, place, spirituality,
storytelling, history, and colonial concerns. In addressing each
of these topics, Fast shows her facility and broad knowledge of
American Indian poetry and critical context. She easily discusses
well-known authors: Simon Ortiz (Acoma), Wendy Rose (Hopi), Joy
Harjo (Creek), Linda Hogan (Chicasaw), Sherman Alexie (Spokane-Coeur
d’Alene), and Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), the last
more renowned for fiction writing. An important contribution of
this book is the introduction and discussion of less familiar
poets such as Robert Davis (Tlingit-Kake). Having been exposed
to the primary themes, the reader should then return to the original
sources, as suggested in a supplemental bibliography, where an
abundance of American Indian poetry additionally addresses political
and tribal concerns.
of Nevada–Las Vegas
Roland L., Jr. African American Autobiography and the Quest
for Freedom. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000. 176 pp.
ISBN 0-313-30585-4, $52.95.
an assistant professor of literature at Temple University, makes
a sound argument for considering African-American autobiographies,
particularly slave narratives, within the American tradition of
autobiographical writings rather than as a separate genre. Williams
makes his case by effectively pairing slave narratives with selected
pieces of Euro-American writing: The Interesting Narrative
of the Life of Olaudah Equiano with The Autobiography of
Benjamin Franklin; the Narrative of the Life of Frederick
Douglass with Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the
Mast; and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave
Girl with Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall. Williams makes his
argument that these black and white writers alike draw on an epic
tradition of heroism, in which the protagonist/speaker struggles
for freedom and self-determination, and accomplishes these goals
partly through literacy and learning.
intends his book as a corrective to the prevailing Black Studies
view of African-American writings as antithetical to mainstream
American culture, and African American Autobiography does
delineate strong similarities between the texts that it pairs.
Thus, it makes a good case for reading slave narratives as central
to the prevailing American tradition of self-writing; yet such
a reading must, unfortunately, sometimes minimize the differences
that race imposes on the lives described by the writers. Williams’s
book is accessible, even though sentences are occasionally convoluted,
and this book would be appropriate for college libraries and for
students and scholars of American and African-American literatures.
Craig S. Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism.
Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1999. 288 pp. ISBN 0-8166-3023-2,
a continuation of Osage scholar Robert Allen Warrior’s call for
tribal and intellectual sovereignty, Creek-Cherokee Womack has
produced a groundbreaking literary work. Not only does Womack
develop a theoretical foundation for tribal criticisms, but he
also applies this theory in a series of insightful critical essays.
Each essay has a fictional coda and dialogue with a hysterically
funny letter that plays with Creek characters and authors. Womack
argues that to understand American Indian literatures, the writings
must be viewed in a context of specific tribal nations and cultures.
For examples he expounds on Muscogee/Creek history, storytelling
and the works of Creek writers Alice Callahan, Alexander Posey,
Louis Oliver, and Joy Harjo.
last chapter switches to Womack’s Cherokee ties in an innovative
presentation of the Cherokee Nation by Lynn Riggs (author of Green
Grow the Lilacs, basis for the musical Oklahoma!).
Womack explains Riggs’s double coding of both his Cherokee and
gay identities. This work is a stunning model of how Indian scholars
can explicate tribal-specific oral and written works with an understanding
of the political ramifications for real Indian peoples. Womack
convincingly and clearly explains how contemporary literary theories
are inadequate and colonial for American Indian literatures. His
application of tribal-based criticism is brilliant.
of Nevada–Las Vegas