August 11, 2014

Review: Great Short Stories by Contemporary Native American Writers

Great Short Stories by Contemporary Native American Authors By Pauline Johnson, Zitkala-Sa, John M. Oskison, D'Arcy McNickle, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joseph Bruchac III, Jack D. Forbes, Rayna Green, Mary TallMountain, Duane Niatum, Thomas King, Eli Funaro, Beth H. Piatote, Sherman Alexie
Edited by Bob Blaisdell
Available now from Dover Thrift Editions
Review copy

GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS is an extremely affordable and accessible anthology from Dover Publications that delivers exactly what the title promises. The fourteen stories included range from 1893 (Pauline Johnson) to 2009 (Sherman Alexie).  I was familiar with two of the authors, Alexie and Joseph Bruchac III, but the others were all new to me.  I really appreciated the biographical notes by editor Bob Blaisdell that preceded each story.  These notes tell of the authors' tribal backgrounds and provide some context for the stories.

The stories tend toward the shorter side - "War Dances" by Sherman Alexie is the longest story included.  It is a standout story, however.  I've read quite a bit of Alexie, but I think I enjoyed one of his stories even more when it was surrounded by different authors.  It felt like I was coming into his (morbid, funny) voice fresh.

As for the other authors, I loved that both men and women were included.  I find that survey anthologies such as GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS tend to lose women's voices along the way, so I was happy to see them included.  In fact, a woman kicks the anthology, which is organized chronologically, off.  "A Red Girl's Reasoning" is a terrific tale of pride and rage and a relationship destroyed by a difference in culture.

Editor Bob Blaisdell stretches the word "contemporary" to the breaking point, but I enjoyed seeing the progression through time.  D'Arcy McNickle uses a white narrator for "Train Time," imagining the regrets of someone who thinks he's doing the right thing, but can't find the words to explain himself.  Many of the stories, such as Jack D. Forbes's very brief "Only Approved Indians Can Play Made in USA," are utterly hilarious in a funny not funny way.

If you're looking for stories of the life of some modern Native Americans, this is a terrific anthology.  I'm certainly planning to pick up some more work by many of these authors in the future, and none of the stories were duds.  Nor did anything in GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS feel like a lecture.  This is pure good writing, just with some extra cultural interest.


  1. Ooh, this sounds like a great collection and an excellent way to discover new authors! I am reading Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson right now - have you read that one before? I'm really enjoying it so far.

    Also wanted to drop you a note to say that sign-ups for the A More Diverse Universe challenge are open again! You participated last year, so just wanted to let you know it's happening again :-)

    1. I haven't read Monkey Beach, but I'll put it on my pull list for the library!

      (And I see you already noticed I signed up! Now I just have to remember the date!)

  2. And... just saw that you are already signed up - sorry! Regardless, I still recommend Monkey Beach if you've not read it yet :-)

  3. Oh wow, this sounds great. As you say, collections like these have a tendency to forget women writers, and it's really great to see that's not the case here! Pure good writing + cultural insight... what more could a reader ask for?

    1. Oh yeah, I was definitely impressed by the number of women included.


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