This ongoing, collaborative sequence of weekly poems, with editors changing every month, features wonderful work, like that of James Benger, "Blood," this week, monthly editor Ronda Miller. , The poem begins:
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Dear Friends / Family,
Thank you for good wishes during the trying time of evacuation from our home during the KincadeA small fire in the Fitch Mountain neighborhood in August helped us to mentally prepare for a mandatory evacuation. We saw the local firefighters in action and how they were quick, had effective defenses, and worked with helicopters that carry water bins; jets that spew retardant; and impressive fire trucks. New to firefighting in this region is use of motion camera surveillance on mountain peaks. Also new is the meteorologists’ experience of what these Santa Ana-like winds can do in Northern, not just Southern, California. The fire crews were alert and arrived quickly.
So, when the bleepingly intrusive alarm of the Kincade Fire came over our phones Saturday noon, Tom and I were somewhat prepared. We had our legal papers together in a portable file box. We had a go-bag of food. We had gas in the cars, water, and some cash. But we were still overwhelmed when we got a 3-hour notice that we should evacuate. The fire was 5 miles away with strong winds blowing toward us. We unplugged appliances, found our overnight bags, and charged our phones. We then had time to select a second tier of possessions to pack—finer clothes, family photographs, jewelry, mementos, a few books and paintings, and the Sabatier knives my brother gave me in 1972. Wine. I packed a case or so of my winemaker son’s wine from the basement, for barter and for solace.
This process of choice was a rapid recapitulation of our year of packing for the move to California
We found someone willing to take us in—our daughter-in-law Allison’s mother Tami lives in Santa Rosa 15 miles away. We started the drive through back roads to Tami’s house, and luckily, Tom found a gas station and topped off the tank. At Tami’s we shared burgers from a local joint and some of the wine. All seemed normal, except for the layer of smoke to the north. At nightfall, Tami and her friend decided to leave for another city, while we stayed and went to sleep. We thought we were set.
We did not really understand the likelihood of a progression from an evacuation warning to a mandatory evacuation. Nor did we understand where we were on the map in this new town and how close we were to the fire. At 4 a.m. the phones made the wretched alarm again, and a neighbor pounded on the door and told us to evacuate. He affirmed that we were in the projected path of the fire.
We were loaded and on the road fifteen minutes later. We headed out the driveway with no clear planwas only accessible from the south—101 North closed within minutes.
Two hours later, we turned off 101 onto dark country roads near Petaluma and managed to find Uncle Bob and Aunt Elaine’s ranch, thanks to Siri the Omniscient. At 6 am they had coffee ready, good pour-over coffee. That meant a lot. Then they cooked us a seriously good breakfast. Our son David advised us, and we mapped directions to Oregon, where former Lawrence friends Jim Gilkeson and Diane Tegtmeier live. They had been displaced by the Valley Fire four years ago. They would understand.
We made it as far as Redding that day, where we spent a tense night in a motel. In the morning, we watched television news of the fire, miniaturized on the tube into brief, dramatic clips. This odd echo of our experience, distorted, added a sense of unreality.
Then we traveled to Ashland, by way of Mount Shasta. We stopped and appreciated this white-topped
By the time we reached Ashland and found our temporary abode, I was snappish. I was disconnected from my surroundings and did not register the beautiful colors of an Oregon autumn. Our patient friends served a lovely dinner, and we contributed wine. Food and drink and talk worked their magic. Jim and Diane conducted informal therapy with us for the duration—listening, comparing stories, sharing outcomes. They introduced another survivor of the Valley Fire, and I listened as she told her story. We were becoming part of a new fellowship in the evolving pattern of days.
On the 3rd day came the rescinding of the evacuation order. The narrative that we had been living
We made the long drive home on Halloween, expecting power outages but happy to have an intact house. When we reached Healdsburg, we saw burned hills directly above our son David and his wife Allison’s house. Everything was okay, but oh so close to the upturned Tower of the Tarot deck. Out our back yard, we could see pink fire retardant on hills across from us and a burned patch. Light ash covered the rose leaves.
And that should have been the jubilant ending. But the gas was still out. Still is out. At first, this is not such a problem. The microwave, a single space heater, the refrigerator, even the washer and dryer work. The coffee pot works. But the stove does not, nor the hot water heater. This is too many days without a shower and a week without a shampoo. Nights are very cold.
So, we are still between worlds, in a suspended time. We can’t leave the house unattended from 8 am
We are having unpleasant emotions about Pacific Gas & Electric, which turned off our gas well after the major threat of fire. Our insurance company emailed and offered to spray our house with fire retardant gel 6 hours before we were cleared to return. We declined. After collecting and totaling receipts, I found our expenses were $50 less than the deductible. Some things never change.
The power outages and evacuations are all worth it for one outcome—no fatalities. We will contribute to the relief effort for Sonoma County evacuees who are less fortunate (our church is taking a collection for undocumented workers), and we will count our blessings. For now, we are trying to adjust to a new understanding of our environment and new identities, for we do identify with our surroundings. The water, air, and local foods circulate in our bodies. The burned scar on the slope opposite us is a reminder of this time of fragility when our houses and bone-house bodies were in balance.
After a few weeks, we will have a family meeting, Tom and I, and maybe a few of the turkey vultures
We truly appreciate each of you and your kind words of support. This is my first national disaster, so I have been fortunate to live this long without a tornado or other catastrophe—just those of my own making. The gas company might come tomorrow, and Tami has offered her house for a hot shower. Life in this interstitial space is, well, goodish.
Best to all, Denise
PS, we just had the gas turned on. End of the evacuation saga, part I.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
The winner will be announced November 20, 2019. In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for the NBA in poetry (my comments in italics):
Jericho Brown, “The Tradition” Copper Canyon Press. This might be my frontrunner. Brown works with passion, cultural layers (including biblical, Gospel music), and sheer lyricism. His work is inventive and moving, joining head and heart. From the publisher: “The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.”
Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems University of Pittsburgh Press. Derricotte is a master, a founder of the important Cave Canem, a fine poet. Her new book of selected and new poems shows a full range of an important career. From the publisher: “The story of Toi Derricotte is a hero’s odyssey. It is the journey of a poetic voice that in each book earns her way to home, to her own commanding powers. “I”: New and Selected Poems shows the reader both the closeness of the enemy and the poet’s inherent courage, inventiveness, and joy. It is a record of one woman’s response to the repressive and fracturing forces around the subjects of race, class, color, gender, and sexuality. Each poem is an act of victory, finding a path through repressive forces to speak with both beauty and truth.
This collection features more than thirty new poems as well as selections from five of Derricotte’s previously published books of poetry.”
Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic” Graywolf Press. Kaminsky brings reader’s into the 21st century of dictators, coded language, disability—places where readers enter into a new citizenship. This is important work, and this is a frontrunner for the award. From the publisher: “Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signs by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea—Ilya Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.”
Carmen Giménez Smith, “Be Recorder” Graywolf Press. This high-profile editor of Noemi Press, co-director for CantoMundo, Professor of English at Virginia Tech, and with Steph Burt poetry editor of The Nation is a powerhouse writer. Be ready to learn new pathways in your brain when you follow her inventions. From the publisher: “Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion—against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of our time’s most vital and vivacious poets.”
Arthur Sze, “Sight Lines” Copper Canyon Press. Sze taught many years at Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a fine, fine poet in addition to his role of mentor. His Chinese American perspective gives him layers that make this a very global and very 21st century American book. From the publisher: “From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices―from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent―and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.”
JUDGES FOR THE NBA-POETRY (from the NBA website):
Jos Charles is the author of feeld, winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series and Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and Safe Space. She is a recipient of the 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is pursuing a PhD in English from UC Irvine.
John Evans is an owner of DIESEL, A Bookstore in Los Angeles. He has been a board member of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Association. He has been a judge for the CLMP Firestarter Award for Poetry, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry, the ABA’s Indies Choice Book Award, and other awards. He is also a poet and has an M.A. in Poetics from New College of California.
Vievee Francis is the author of three books of poetry: Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark (winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection), and Forest Primeval (winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award). Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, textbooks, and anthologies, including Poetry, Best American Poetry 2010, 2014, 2017, 2019 and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. In 2009 she received a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and in 2010, a Kresge Fellowship. She has been a participant in the Cave Canem Workshops, a Poet-in-Residence for the Alice Lloyd Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, and teaches poetry writing in numerous modes and venues including the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop (USA, UK, Caribbean). Francis serves as an associate editor for Callaloo and is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Cathy Park Hong‘s latest poetry collection, Engine Empire, was published in 2012. Her other collections include Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo’um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Baffler, Boston Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University. Her book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, will be published by One World/Random House in Spring 2020.
Chair – Mark Wunderlich is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which is God of Nothingness, forthcoming from Graywolf Press. His other collections include The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize, Voluntary Servitude, and The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and elsewhere, and his poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Poetry, The Paris Review, and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. , Variations on Dawn and Dusk, Omnidawn Publishing; , The Tradition, Copper Canyon Press; , “I”: New and Selected Poems, University of Pittsburgh Press; , Build Yourself a Boat, Haymarket Books; , Deaf Republic, Graywolf Press; , A Sand Book, Tin House Books; , Dunce, Wave Books; , Be Recorder, Graywolf Press; , Sight Lines, Copper Canyon Press; , Doomstead Days, Nightboat Books.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
BEATS IN KANSAS program sponsored by Humanities Kansas, April 7, 2019
Beat Writers of Kansas: The Lawrence-Wichita Magnetic Pole by Denise Low
The book, The Beats, edited by Seymour Krim, is where my story begins. In the mid-1960s I was a junior high kid in Emporia, when I found this paperback book in a newsstand. George Laughead has told me, how at about the same time in Dodge City, he found The Beats and began his awakening to alternative literature. The book influenced many of us as soon as we could get to a bookstore without parental supervision. It abetted our rebellions.
This first Beatnik anthology, copyright 1960, includes Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Diane Di Prima, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—twenty-five writers in all. Wichitan Charley Plymell moved to San Francisco after this book was published by an East Coast press. Michael McClure also is missing. But still, it is a good snapshot of the first decade of the movement.
In the 1950s, Beats began using psychotropic drugs, drinking, writing, and art-ing together in New York City and San Francisco. The bicoastal interaction, between the hip Village scene in the East, and the Asian-influenced West, created a vital dynamic. Gary Snyder was the first writer to bring Zen meditation from Japan to the U.S., to California, as he told me himself,. He is the ultimate West Coast beat writer, with his respect for Indigenous narratives and for processes of nature. His first book was Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (1959). Burroughs, with his suits and uptown bearing, might represent the East Coast Beatnik. Both places fostered interest in alternatives forms of consciousness, whether through Zen, meditation learned in India, psilocybin, uppers, downers, or alcohol—or admixtures of all. Both Beat hangouts in New York and San Francisco were havens for gay people, which is no coincidence. And Kansas—well it is in the middle. All roads go through Kansas, and I understand there was a gay bar in Wichita and a gay culture in Lawrence.
Writers especially are the spokespersons for the Beat movement, and milestone publications are Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956), Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957), and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959). Each has had a tremendous influence on literature. Howl refreshes Walt Whitman’s distinctive style and breaks down academic rules of poetics. On the Road uses stream-of-consciousness as a strategy and celebrates the American anti-hero. It also develops the distinctive road trip theme of United States literature. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch led to a censorship trial over its perceived obscenity. The first amendment was upheld, finally, in 1966. This is a landmark legal case.
Beat writers found their work unattractive to the literary establishment, and I once heard scuttlebutt that Ginsberg was stung by his rejections from major poetry publications. Karl Shapiro, a powerful critic, champions the Beats in the New York Times Sunday Review of Books when he describes the status quo of 1960: “’Modern American poetry is rightly called academic; it is textbook poetry, good for teaching. . . . But nobody reads it except around examination time’” (9). Krim writes up a description of what Beat writing stand for, beyond rebellion:
Beat and hip writing—with its 1960-sudden combination of realism, surrealism, drastic out-in-the-open acts of murder and love that do justice to what had been sickly saved up for centuries, and with its jazz sentences and bad grammar or no grammar or new grammar—has the excesses and rawness of every unmapped revolt; but why pick on its goofs rather than the enormously positive power and Voice of the movement, which even a deaf man can hear? (10)
This is still a good overview of the writing, especially the break-down of the formality of sentences. Beat poetics abetted Black Mountain poets and led to Language Poetry—and an explosion of new entries into literary expression.
Ginsberg is the most vocal of the Beat poets, and both Wichita and Lawrence share stories of his visits. Kansas appears early in Ginsberg’s career, 1956, in Howl, the 22nd line: “who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas.” He refers to Kansas as a mystical place where cosmic vibrations intersect.
In the 1959 poem in Krim’s collection, “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear,” Ginsberg begins another poem with a reference to Kansas:
Poet is priest
Money has reckoned the soul of America
Congress broken thru to the precipice of Eternity
the president built a war machine which will vomit and
rear up Russia out of Kansas
The American century betrayed by a mad Senate which no
longer sleeps with its wife (149)
Kansas here is a geographic counterpart to Russia, representing the whole of the United States as a synecdoche. In Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Ginsberg expands his idea of Kansas with Wichita place names,
Ginsberg was a secular pilgrim when he traveled to Kansas, which already was an important part of his poetic geography. According to James Johnson, Ginsberg wanted to visit Wichita because: “He wanted to see the city that produced so many great minds and so many weapons of Death.” His friendships with Wichita-connected Beats made an impression on him, according to the interviews in the Wichita Vortex documentary film, especially Charley Plymell, Michael McClure, Robert Branaman, Bruce Conner, and David Haselwood. “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” written in 1966, begins “I’m an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas.” The poem interweaves snippets of Vietnam War facts with Kansas landscape and history. With his visit to Wichita, he knit together his imagined poetic Kansas with specific site references.
One of my great regrets was that I attended KU a year after Ginsberg visited Kansas, including Lawrence. The stories of Ginsberg were still fresh and influenced the arts scene at K.U. The wonderful Abington Bookstore was a revelation, and I bought Ginsberg’s books there. Those were wild times. I had a boyfriend in the 1960s who had turned Jack Kerouac onto peyote—he was a Lakota guy. A man rooming in my boarding house, Gene Bernofsky, had been part of the LSD experiments at Harvard in the 1960s and had lived at Drop City. Edward Dorn spent a semester in Lawrence and vied to get a position despite showing up to class ripped. And so forth.
Through the 1970s and into the 1990s, Ginsberg made intermittent trips to Lawrence. First, he was brought as a visiting reader, and he packed ballrooms. He was a great musician and understood how to use sound, rhythm, and parables. Another perspective—he had worked in an ad agency in New York before his poetry career, and he understood how to promote himself. He understood staging, theatrics, spectacle. This skill, in my humble opinion, amplified the public profile of the Beats. He was a prime mover for that group.
After Burroughs moved to Lawrence in 1983, Ginsberg visited every year or so to maintain their close friendship. Burroughs had an appointment as a visiting writer-in-residence at KU—he was in his 60s and needed some retirement credits. He was required to do so many public appearances.
There were salons for him afterwards, where he and I were introduced. It was normal to run into part of his entourage, both the local residents like James Grauerholz, Wayne Propst, Ira Silverberg, sometimes George Laughead, and also the visitors— Allen, Anne Waldman, Keith Haring, Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain, Peter Weller, Steve Buscemi. Sometimes these were superficial sightings; other times I was lucky to be invited to dinner with Burroughs. He was a brilliant man who opened his mouth and paragraphs fell out. He had a keen interest in alternative consciousness of all sorts, not just drug-induced, and he had fascinating stories. He read a lot of science to research cutting edge discoveries and fringe areas like cryogenics. A man trained in Lakota ceremonies guided him through some ritual fasting. His acquisition of a section of Albert Einstein’s brain in Lawrence has been documented in the book Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain by Michael Paterniti. Shotgun art, the Gentleman’s Quarterly fashion shoot in Kansas City, the Japanese science fiction film crew—so many stories.
A bit about Gary Snyder in Lawrence. The KU Spencer Museum of Art has an excellent Asian collection. They had a series of lectures and conferences based on that collection, with Snyder as an honored guest several times in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The English Department co-sponsored some of his visits, and I was honored to interview him (with Robin Tawney) for Cottonwood Review. Snyder was such a powerful influence on the arts scene in Lawrence that people collected together their Gary Snyder dreams—which everyone had. He was social and enjoyed a number of informal meals with writers and Zen practitioners in Lawrence. His early explanations of ecopoetics had a large influence on my own writing and that of others.
Stories of the Beats, or near-Beats, go on and on. Kansas, the center of the vortex, is a complicated place, it is a place where much undisturbed land still exists, it is a place with an intersectional heritage—not quite East nor West, not Southern and not Northern. William S. Burroughs lived in Lawrence longer than anywhere else in his adult life. The Koch brothers are born and bred Kansans. Barack Obama’s grandparents who raised him are from outside Wichita. This is a place of contradictions. The Beat movement has braided into different channels, like the Arkansas River, but it has never stopped. No one story has the full truth; only listening to many stories approximates the real narrative.
Ginsberg, Allen. “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear.” The Beats, ed. Seymour Krim. Fawcett, 1960. 149-153. This poem is reprinted from a Nov. 1959 London Times Literary Supplement issue.
Ginsberg, Allen. “Howl.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49303/howl
Grawe, Jim, producer/director/writer. Wichita Vortex: A KPTS Documentary. 2016. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NeSJNi0xcM
Johnson, James. “The Wichita Group.” Beats in Kansas (website maintained by George Laughead). Accessed April 5, 2019. http://www.vlib.us/beats/wichitagroup.html
Krim, Seymour. The Beats: A Gold Medal Anthology. Fawcett, 1960.
Paterniti, Michael. Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain. Dial Press, 2013.
Shapiro, Karl. Quoted in Krim, The Beats, p. 9.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Indigenous Writers and Kansas, May 29, 2019 Denise Low, Ph.D.
for the Kansas Literature Map Project of Washburn University
sponsored by Humanities Kansas, Washburn, and Haskell Indian Nations University
Kansas, in the center of the United States, is a crossroads in the history of Indigenous peoples. It enters settler history with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, between the 18th and 19th centuries. The region is geographically on the cusp of the “frontier” in that history: Kansas City is the gateway to the West. Kansas writers inherit complicated histories and landscapes.
The terrain varies widely. Parts of the state are western high plains and canyonlands, and in the southeast, at the other extreme, is a section of the Ozarks. In between are short-grass prairies, wetlands, and oak savannahs. Nineteenth century land trails are the Oregon, Santa Fe, Chisholm, and Pony Express; and each evokes a history.
Before the United States government colonized the region, nations that lived here included: Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kaw, Kiowa, Lakota, Osage, Pawnee, Otoe and Missouria, and Wichita peoples. As European settlement pushed west, all of these nations were deposed from their lands, but not without conflict.
The U.S. government designated this region as an Indian Territory at the time of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. About thirty Eastern tribal nations were relocated to reservations in Kansas, including Lenape and Munsee (Delaware), Shawnee, Miami, Kaw, Osage, Peoria, and Wyandot. Today, four federally recognized tribal nations remain from those times: Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. In addition, federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma have land holdings in Kansas, notably the Wyandotte Nation, which has three casinos in the Kansas City, Kansas, area; and the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma, which has a second tribal headquarters in Caney, Kansas, and eighty acres in North Lawrence, currently undeveloped.
Kansas is adjacent to Oklahoma, which was the reduced Indian Territory from 1834 to 1907, and migrations from one state to another are common. As the Civil War conflict spread into Indian Territory in the 1860s, tribal groups that sympathized with the Union fled into Kansas. Some returned after the war, and some did not. During World War II, many Oklahomans of all backgrounds migrated to Wichita to work in the airplane factories. Oklahomans and other neighboring states send large contingents of students to school at Haskell Indian Nations University. Haskell has, according to its website today, students from “150 federally recognized sovereign nations from 38 states.” Most of these return home, but some remain in Kansas.
Haskell has been an important center for Native education since 1884, and many students and staff have distinguished themselves as writers, from Ella Deloria to Stephen Paul Judd. Native Kansas writers come from this complicated map. They may identify as members of federally recognized tribal members from Kansas or elsewhere. They may be members of unrecognized remnant groups of Indian Territory when it included Kansas. Academic migrants form a substantial group of Kansas-related authors. They are often transients who spend some time as professors in the state and move on.
Perhaps the most distinguished writer with Kansas connections is Ella Deloria, Dakota (1889-1971), an early anthropologist who worked with Franz Boas, founder of that social science. She is aunt to the author Vine Deloria, Junior. Her publications include Waterlily and Iron Hawk, novels; Dakota Narratives, a collection of stories; and numerous other anthropological and narrative prose publications and papers. At Haskell from 1923 to 1928 she taught dance and physical education. In the summers, she worked with Boas with Lakota linguistics and other projects, often uncredited. In 1928, she published The Wohpe Festival (Multilith), and that early publication must have been a writing project from her Haskell days. Her extensive online archives, sponsored by the American Indian Studies Research Institute of Indiana University, include all of her books and articles.
Langston Hughes is another famous writer with Kansas ties. Although he was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1901, as a baby his mother moved him back to her mother’s home in Lawrence. He benefitted from the Lawrence school system for his early educational skills and also his grandmother’s schooling in oral traditions of her family. She had ties to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe of Virginia, which finally gained federal recognition in 2015, and to Eastern Cherokees. Hughes describes her as a Native woman in his autobiography, “My grandmother looked like an Indian - with very long black hair. She said she could lay claim to Indian land, but that she never wanted the government (or anybody else) to give her anything." Langston never knew his grandfather Charles Langston, and his father was in Mexico. Often his mother was traveling to find work, so Grandmother Langston was the writer’s most influential family member. He opens The Big Sea with a description of his mixed identity:
You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word "Negro" is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown.
He challenges the idea that identity can be reduced to a simple formula, and he suggests some of his complexities in his positioning in the African American community. My Lawrence biography of Hughes, co-authored with Thomas Weso, gives some of his diverse background and connections to abolitionists in Kansas.
These two authors also illustrate the extremes of identity among Kansas writers. Enrolled Native writers reared in Kansas include Joshua Falleaf, Lara Mann, Pamela Dawes Tambornino, Gwen Westerman, Robert Warrior, and Daniel Wildcat. All of these Kansas natives have ties to Haskell except Westerman, who attended K.U. I am including writers of critical essays in this list, as well as creative writers—but not technical writers.
One of the more prominent Kansas-born writers is Gwen Westerman. Westerman is a quilter, an academic, a poet, and a storyteller. She has dual enrollment in very different tribes, Cherokee Nation and Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate. She studied with my mentor at KU, Bernard Hirsch, who taught English and American Indian Literature at KU in the 1970s. She is a faculty member at the University of Minnesota-Mankato. Westerman co-wrote MniSota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, with Bruce White, which won a Minnesota Book Award. Her collection of poetry, written in Dakota and English, is entitled Follow the Blackbirds. Her poetry is receiving recognition, as Heid Erdrich included her in the important anthology, New Poets of Native Nations (Greywolf, 2018).
Pamela Dawes Tambornino is a prose writer whose collection of stories, Maggie’s Story: Teachings of a Cherokee Healer, is an authentic account of her experiences with her Oklahoma grandmother. She also has Osage tribal heritage through her father, and this is another example of complicated ancestry. Pam was former director of the Haskell library, when she won the national federal librarian award of the year, and she also taught in the English department for ten years. She has publications in Tribal College Journal, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Summerset Review, and Yellow Medicine Review. She has been living in Linwood and just moved to Lawrence.
Joshua Falleaf, enrolled Lenape from Caney, Kansas, whose MFA is in poetry writing, has been a professor at Haskell since 2010. He writes poetry and essays, and his background and scholarship are assets to his teaching of Native students. He also has had responsibilities with his ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma.
Thomas Pecore Weso, my husband almost thirty years, came to Haskell from the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin, as did his mother, aunts, and uncles, and also the generation before that, his grandfather and great uncles. His Prairie Band Potawatomi great-grandfather may have been a student here as well. His family illustrates the deep ties to Haskell many Indigenous people have to this Kansas institution. His award-winning book Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir, has sold well and won national and international recognition. He is at work on his second memoir for Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Devon Mihesuah, enrolled Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma with Chickasaw heritage, has published, according to her website, over a hundred “refereed journal essays, book chapters, commentaries, editorials, and books.” These include award-winning novels, food essays, a biography of the Cherokee Ned Christie, and much more. She edited the influential American Indian Quarterly for nine years and has been at the University of Kansas since 2005. Her critiques of the field Indigenous Studies appear in numerous articles and important books.
Luci Tapahonso, Diné, is a prominent transient writer who lived in Lawrence. She taught at K.U. from 1990 to 1999, while her husband Robert Martin was president of Haskell. She is author of poetry, children’s books, and essays—the latter of which I believe are not recognized enough for their important insights about rhetorical differences between the Diné and English literary traditions. She writes in Diné and often uses a syntax that reflects her first language. Perhaps less well known is her activism while in Lawrence. She insisted on the establishment of an Indigenous Nations Studies graduate degree as part of her negotiations with KU, as well as a diversity fellowship. She served on the Kansas Arts Commission and received a Kansas Governor’s Arts Award. She has left her mark on the state.
Among writers who have heritage but are not enrolled, Diane Glancy deserves special comment. She recently has a member of the First Families of the Cherokee Nation, which suggests a new category for people with heritage but no tribal membership. She writes about her work:
My heritage affects my worldview. For years, I have written about Native history, and I have done research to uncover unrecognized and overlooked parts of that history. I have traveled to the places where that history happened. I have written about the importance of land, of being, of presence. https://passionpassport.com/native-american-visibility/
She grew up in Kansas City, where her father worked in the meat packing plants, and she lives in Prairie Village, Kansas. Since 1984 she has published poetry, fiction, essays, and drama. Her novel Pushing the Bear (Harcourt, 1996) retells the Cherokee Trail of Tears with historical accuracy and detailed maps. She has innovative approaches to literary structures in all of her writings. Her edited collections include Visiting Tipi Town: Native Writing after the Detours, an essential text of hybrid genre writings for me when teaching at Haskell.
Linda Rodriguez, born in Fowler, Kansas, graduated from high school in Manhattan. Her Cherokee heritage is the basis of her writings, including the most recent book of poetry, Dark Sister, nominated for an Oklahoma Book Award. She won a St. Martins Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition for her first Skeet Bannion mystery, which was also a Barnes & Noble Mystery Pick. She has published ten books, and more are pending.
These are some comments about writers with connections to this region, and all the writers deserve thoughtful readers beyond this annotated catalogue. To summarize some insights about these authors and their writings:
- · They reflect contemporary situations for Native peoples, even when writing about historic themes. None romanticizes or simplifies a complicated history. Pushing the Bear, by Glancy, is informed by deep geography as a structure. Mihesuah’s Ned Christie biography engages with issues of biased journalism and influence of mainstream stereotypes like the larger-than-life savage.
- · Careful research informs the works, so vague generalities about Native peoples, prevalent in the pulp Westerns of the 20th century, are not perpetuated. Tribal affiliations are specific.
- · They reflect the complexity of multiple viewpoints. As people of mixed heritages and/or histories, they balance multiple perspectives without one erasing the other, as Tambornino presents her Cherokee grandmother’s life in the Osage community of Pawhuska, for one example.
- · Forces of nature and land’s rights are essential.
Here are some thoughts about the future of Indigenous writers in Kansas.
- · We will see more writers of several tribes, either dually enrolled or with one official enrollment but other cultural influences. Gwen Westerman is one example of this.
- · Writers with three, four, and more tribal affiliations will create a new kind of diversity among Native writers.
- · Indigenous people from Mexico and other Latin American countries will find recognition as another category of Native writer, outside of U.S. government recognition. The current poet laureate of Kansas, Huascar Medina, is of indigenous Panamanian (and Puerto Rican descent). Xánath Caraza of Kansas City, Missouri, is an immigrant from Vera Cruz whose mother is Aztec. She has published trilingual poetry in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English.
- · The visual and written arts will merge, as in the works of Stephen Paul Judd, Choctaw and Kiowa; Thomas Yeahpau, Kiowa; and Tvli Jacobs, Choctaw—all former students at Haskell involved with film and text.
- · Indigenous people will continue to select media that will enhance their abilities to sustain and develop traditions.
The diversity of Kansas Indigenous writers reflects the central position of Kansas on the continent. It is midway in history of European settlement and also in geography, as Haskell and other universities continue to attract people from many nations. The attention of Kansans to education, even when in self-interest as in the founding of Haskell Institute, creates an environment that encourages writing and writing communities. These communities, within and across tribal membership lines, will continue the storytelling in genres that are simultaneously old and new.
Native American Kansas Writers
This annotated list is intended as a beginning point for further researchers. The emphasis is on literary writers.
Joshua Falleaf, Caney (Delaware), MFA, McNeese State University, Haskell faculty 2010 to present.
Diane Glancy, Kansas City area (Cherokee heritage), numerous publications about Native life and awards in all genres. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Glancy
Langston Hughes, Lawrence (Pamunkey and other heritages), writes in his autobiography The Big Sea of his Native heritage and conflicted identity as a mixed-blood person. He lived in Lawrence from infancy to age 13. Wikipedia has the correct birth date and information about Hughes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langston_Hughes#Ancestry_and_childhood
Denise (Dotson) Low, Emporia (Delaware heritage), www.deniselow.net
Lara Mann, Valley Center (Choctaw), published Indigenous Game Theory (Chickasaw Press, with LeeAnn Howe), and poetry chapbook, “A Song of Ascents and Descents" Salt Publishing (UK) in 2014 in Effigies II https://laramann.weebly.com/
Linda Rodriguez, Manhattan (Cherokee heritage) with numerous publications including the Skeet Bannion detective series and poetry. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/linda-rodriguez and https://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/
Pamela Dawes Tambornino, (Cherokee) https://mammothpublications.net/writers-m-to-z/tambornino-pamela-dawes-maggies-story/
Gwen Westerman, Wichita and did her PhD at K.U. (Cherokee and Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate) https://www.gwenwesterman.com/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_Westerman#Life_and_career
Robert Warrior (Osage), Marion County, http://americanstudies.ku.edu/robert-warrior
Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi), Coffeyville, https://danielwildcat.com/
Native American Writers Connected to Haskell or KU
Christie Cooke, (Dine), MFA, University of Arizona, Haskell faculty 2008 to present
Ella DeLoria (Dakota, at Haskell 1923-28), born 1889. Her publications include Waterlily, a novel, and numerous other anthropological and narrative prose publications and papers. At Haskell she taught dance and physical education. https://commons.und.edu/theses/597/
Stephanie Fitzgerald ([Cree] Nehiyaw/Ininiw, at KU 2000-2019, director of Indigenous Studies, Arizona State University, 2019). Books include: Native Women and Land: Narratives of Dispossession and Resurgence (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), and co-editor of Keepers of the Morning Star: An Anthology of Native Women's Theater (UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2003). http://english.ku.edu/stephanie-fitzgerald
George Godfrey (Potawatomi, 1993-2001) http://potawatomi-tda.org/books/georgeg.htm
Tvli Jacob (Choctaw, former Haskell student), filmmaker from Oklahoma.
Steven Paul Judd (Choctaw and Kiowa, former Haskell student), , co-author with Thomas Yeahpah, The Last Pow-Wow (Create Space, 2016). https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0NHDPE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
Devon Mihesuah (Choctaw, at KU since 2005), author of award-winning books of fiction, history, and Native food culture, http://www.aihd.ku.edu/exercise/AboutMeMihesuah.html
Theresa Milk (Lakota, Haskell B.S.Ed., Ph.D. at KU, faculty at Haskell 2001-2016), Haskell Institute: 19th Century Stories of Sacrifice and Survival (Mammoth). https://mammothpublications.net/writers-m-to-z/milk-theresa-haskell-institute-19th-c-stories/
James Thomas Stevens, Aronhiótas (Mohawk, at Haskell 1994-2001), poet, published his first book in Lawrence with First Intensity Press, Lee Chapman publisher. Now faculty at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/james-thomas-stevens
Luci Tapahonso (Dine, taught in the KU English Department from 1989-1999), First Navajo Nation Poet Laureate, http://www.lucitapahonso.com/
Thomas Pecore Weso (Menominee, AA degree from Haskell 1993, BGS and MA, University of Kansas), resident of Lawrence 30 years. Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2016), and a second memoir completed www.tomweso.com
Diane Willie (Dine, AA from Haskell, B.Ed. KU, graduate studies at KU in creative writing and education), chapbook of short fiction, Sharp Rocks (Mammoth). She teaches at Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque. https://mammothpublications.net/chapbooks-fine-arts-editions-of-30-pages-or-fewer/diane-willie-sharp-rocks/
Thomas Yeahpah (Kiowa, former Haskell student), co-author with Steven Paul Judd, The Last Pow-Wow (Create Space, 2016) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0NHDPE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
See Washburn's literary map of Kansas: https://washburn.edu/reference/cks/mapping/index.html