Teaching Native American literature to the uninformed student is not an easy task, especially when compared to teaching mainstream literature, African-American literature, Chicano literature, or Asian literature. The teacher of Native literature can help in correcting misconceptions about American Indians by teaching the reality of the American Indian experience in both historic and contemporary times. In this article, the author examines the stakes of being a Native person teaching Native American literature based on her personal experience as a teacher. She also stresses the importance of using novels and short stories to engage students.
Emilio del Valle Escalante
Since the 1980s, Mayas in the Yucatan Peninsula have produced a literary canon that seeks to distance itself from Indigenismo, or literature about the indigenous world by non-Indians. This literary canon, which ranges from poetry to theater, songs, prayers, narrative, testimonies, and legends, is an attempt on the part of the Mayas to affirm and establish their own literary and cultural authority. This chapter examines the origins of contemporary Maya literature in the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on Jorge Cocom Pech’s 1997 autobiographical account Muk’ult’an in Nool (Grandfather’s Secrets). It looks at the book’s critique of modernity, as well as its affirmation of Maya cultural identity and indigenous knowledge. It also discusses the ambiguities and contradictions in Cocom Pech’s work, which favors a patriarchal Maya order that ignores the contribution of indigenous women.
This article discusses the American constitutional elegy. It argues that American national difference in literature can be tracked in the terms of its engagement with specifically American constitutional principles, concentrating on the national period, beginning in the late eighteenth century with the Revolutionary War and sketching the story up to the present day. It then returns to the great theme of elegy as a flexible form and its practices under persistent self-scrutiny. All choral poetry carries with it an association with the choruses of ancient, especially Athenian, tragedy and thus with the common understanding that the chorus speaks as or on behalf of a democratic citizenry. Marilyn Hacker has written a ‘constitutional elegy’ in the great American tradition, a tradition that continues to challenge our principled commitment to the legal and symbolic bonds of ‘adjacent difference’ in a rights-based national polity.
Alan Dundes (1971) proposed the phrase “folk idea” as a concept folklorists could and should use to link the folk items and practices they usually study to larger patterns in American culture, a goal that other familiar folklore concepts (such as myth and genre) could not accomplish. Folk ideas are “underlying assumptions” and offer people ways to order and understand their experiences. Folk ideas move across levels of culture, entering popular culture and even high culture. Dundes saw the folk idea as the smallest unit of the worldview of a people, recognizing that the concept of “worldview” is as vague as “folk idea” and that both needed to be operationalized through concrete examples. The Dundes project is where American folklore studies and American Studies meet, as American Studies scholars look to American history, literature, and the arts for evidence of larger patterns in American culture.
Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard
In 1900, Germany and the United States divided the Samoan archipelago into Western Samoa, consisting of nine western islands, and Amerika Samoa, comprised of seven eastern islands. This political partition resulted in the respective development of written literatures in the “two” Samoas shaped by distinctively different sets of cultural exigencies, opportunities, and constraints. This chapter explores the emergence of a modern, distinctively Amerika Samoan literature; specifically, it analyzes Amerika Samoan writing as a discrete body of literature that addresses its historical context, including the dynamics of colonialism and its discontents, along with cultural integrity as modern Samoan aesthetic expression. The chapter first provides an overview of literary genealogies for the two Samoas before shifting to Amerika Samoa, focusing on works by John Kneubuhl, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Sia Figiel, and Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard. It concludes by discussing shifting notions of home, place and displacement, and cultural and gender identities in the literature.
Leigh Anne Duck
This chapter compares James Agee and Walker Evans’s photodocumentary book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families (1941), with Luis Buñuel’s documentary film Tierra sin Pan/Las Hurdes (1933) in order to argue that, while each of these works is considered unique within the history of its medium, they share a desire to unsettle their audiences by rendering the act of viewing an exercise in prurience and distortion. Thus, the abject traits these texts locate in destitute spaces are matched or even exceeded by those aligned with the source of the gaze. Situating this commonality in relation to their shared theme of uneven economic development and the transnational context of avant-garde aesthetics, the chapter argues against conventional readings of Praise—which describe it as a model of ethical, creatively tortured individualism—by recovering a milieu in which such a pose exemplifies bourgeois egotism.
This chapter suggests a lens for comparative racialization by engaging representations of Asian Americans within the South’s black-white binary. The documentaries Miss India Georgia and Daughter from Danang, along with Monique Truong’s novel Bitter in the Mouth, explore racial subjectivity along a black-white continuum. These depictions of transnational migration do not simply connect the region to circuits of economic globalization. Rather, southern film and literature perform a sort of surrogacy: the Asian American as stand-in for whites and African Americans who remain latent within these narratives. The portrayal of Asian racial difference in the South emerges through displaced association, through the interplay between (white) idealization and (black) disavowal. The South’s historically burdened context allows for a specific latency of racial meaning as it becomes filtered through the perhaps imperfect subjects of national abjection: Asian Americans.
Kiara M. Vigil and Tiya Miles
A recurring and powerful motif in the African-American literature is the crossroads, a black cultural spot marked by the sign of an X. The crossroads also aptly characterizes the nature of Afro-Native literature but, unlike the “double-voiced” discourse in African-American literature and the “hybridized dialogue” attributed to Native American literature, it is a combination of Native American oral tradition, African-American vernacular culture, and modern Western literature. This article examines the writings of black Indians, the so-called red-black literature, and the ways in which African-American, American Indian, and mixed red-black writers articulate the shared and distinctive histories among them. It analyzes a number of novels by Native authors and authors of mixed descent, including Vine Deloria Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), Alice Walker’s Meridian (1976), Craig Womack’s Drowning in Fire (2001), and Michael Dorris’s A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987).
This article mentions the complicated relationship between elegy and the longing for aesthetic redemption; however, such longing is rarely distant from anger and rage, and therefore never far from the effort to make of the AIDS elegy a social genre that could offer the prospect of interaction ‘with the oblivious or indifferent’. The elegy adopts the testimonial precisely because it refuses to turn its back on the ‘urgent concern with the responsibilities of the living’. It then notes the poems by a few of the very well-known gay male poets as evidence of the way in which elegy was being adapted in this writing to the purpose of AIDS witness, somewhat in the manner of a coming out. The intertextual relation of the poems by Ingrid de Kok and Thomas Gunn signifies that here/there and now/then differences are not as self-evident as they may seem.
This article examines how the field of Native rhetoric emerged to address concerns in the study of Indigenous literature. It begins with a discussion of the formation of Native American studies and American Indian literary studies in the United States. It then comments on scholarship and teaching about Native Americans’ rhetorical practices, focusing on the views of Montana Rickards, Red Wing, Paula Gunn Allen, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Finally, it considers Native rhetoric’s historical and ongoing political, intellectual, and ethical challenges within the context of its disciplinary history.