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Spotlight On Indian Writers

Sherman Alexie Is Not Alone

While Sherman Alexie is very much in the public eye - staging poetry readings and producing the recent film Smoke Signal.s

But he is not the only successful American Indian writer. A number of other writers are weaving their Native American culture, myths and philosophies into books aimed at the mainstream.'s Rome Neal presents a sampling of some other famous American Indian authors.

  • Navarre Scott Momaday considers himself more of a poet than a novelist. But that has not deterred the Pulitzer Prize winner from creating acclaimed novels and winning numerous other awards. Most of his works display his Kiowa heritage and translate their culture, myths and historic events into fiction.

    In his writing, Momaday focuses on the relationship of man with nature in Native American culture. Born Feb. 27, 1934, in Lawton, Okla., Momaday was raised in New Mexico. He is also a painter.

  • Michael Anthony Dorris is regarded by many critics as one of the most celebrated Native American writers. Part Modoc, he was born in 1945, in Lousiville, Ky. His writings - fiction and nonfiction - sparked the study of Native American culture.

    His research also helped educate Native Americans and advance understanding of fetal alcohol syndrome, a disorder in children whose mothers drank alcohol heavily during pregnancy.

    Dorris' writing partner and wife was Louise Erdrich. They successfully collaborated on each other's books but their marriage failed. The writers separated in 1996 and planned to divorce. But Dorris committed suicide in 1997, before the divorce was finalized.

  • Of Chippewa and German-American ancestry, Louise Erdrich explores Native American characters interacting with other cultures. At 30, she released Jacklight and Love Medicine, her first works, and has won many literary awards since. Critics describe her writing style as nonlinear.

    Born in 1954, in Little Falls, Minn., she was raised in Wahpeton, N.D. One of the first women to attend Dartmouth College, Erdrich met Dorris there.

  • Thomas King's novels present Native American characters living in modern times. These characters search for their identity as they wrestle to uphold traditional cultural concerns in the face of the demands of contemporary American life.

    Critics have cited King's humor. His characters often search for the meaning of being Indian in the modern world. Of Greek, German and Cherokee descent, King was born in 1943. He lives in Minnesota.

  • Leslie Marmon Silko received recognition for her novel Ceremony, a tale of a World War II veteran's struggle to cope with life on a New Mexico reservation. Silko's chronicling of reservation life has drawn praise from critics.

    Silko, a Pueblo, was born in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1948.

  • Poet and novelist James Welch's works are primarily set in the American West. Hi novels narrate a quest for identity.

    Critics have praised Welch's descriptions of Blackfoot history and the tribe's spiritual way of life.

    Welch collaborated on a PBS documentary on the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's last stand. He also penned a nonfiction account of the battle.

    Of Blackfoot and Gros Ventre descent, Welch was born in Browning, Mont., in 1940.

  • Luci Tapahonso is a writer/poet whose work draws on the imagery of her Navajo ancestry. Her writings are inspired by her early childhood. Music anchors her characters to their culture.

    Born in 1953, she was raised on a New Mexico farm.

  • Born in Cushing, Okla., in 1940, Robert Jackson Conley relies on Cherokee history and legends in his fiction. His characters are set in time both before and after the Native Americans' encounter with Europeans. One critic called Conley's work "uncompromisingly accurate and authentic."
  • Vine Deloria Jr. is a Sioux lawyer, educator and an advocate of Native American nationalism. Deloria has written several books that have served as legal and historical resources.

    Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto brought him to the forefront in the debate over America's treatment of Indians. He was born on March 26, 1933, in Martin, S.D.

  • Joy Harjo is a Muskogee Creek Indian woman who weaves Native American mythology, symbols and values into her writings. Her poetry is mostly autobiographical and focuses on feminism, nature and social concerns. She was born on May 9, 1951, in Tulsa, Okla.

    Written by Rome Neal; Source: Contemporary Authors;