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Red on Red

Native American Literary Separatism

1999
Authors:

Craig S. Womack

Red on Red

An entertaining and enlightening proposal for a new way to read Native American literature.

In an unconventional and piercingly humorous appeal, Womack creates a dialogue between essays on Native literature and fictional letters from Creek characters who comment on the essays. Through this conceit, Womack demonstrates an alternative approach to American Indian literature, with the letters serving as a “Creek chorus” that offers answers to the questions raised in his more traditional essays. Topics range from a comparison of contemporary oral versions of Creek stories and the translations of those stories dating back to the early twentieth century, to a queer reading of Cherokee author Lynn Riggs’s play The Cherokee Night.

This is where any discussion of native literatures must begin, from the heart of the community, in this case-from the fire at the center of the ceremonial grounds. I always think of the story of a white anthropologist who asked a non-western people about their ideology, their philosophy. Their answer? We just dance.

Joy Harjo, author of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky and She Had Some Horses

An entertaining and enlightening proposal for a new way to read Native American literature.

How can a square peg fit into a round hole? It can’t. How can a door be unlocked with a pencil? It can’t. How can Native literature be read applying conventional postmodern literary criticism? It can’t.

That is Craig Womack’s argument in Red on Red. Indian communities have their own intellectual and cultural traditions that are well equipped to analyze Native literary production. These traditions should be the eyes through which the texts are viewed. To analyze a Native text with the methods currently dominant in the academy, according to the author, is like studying the stars with a magnifying glass.

In an unconventional and piercingly humorous appeal, Womack creates a dialogue between essays on Native literature and fictional letters from Creek characters who comment on the essays. Through this conceit, Womack demonstrates an alternative approach to American Indian literature, with the letters serving as a “Creek chorus” that offers answers to the questions raised in his more traditional essays. Topics range from a comparison of contemporary oral versions of Creek stories and the translations of those stories dating back to the early twentieth century, to a queer reading of Cherokee author Lynn Riggs’s play The Cherokee Night.

Womack argues that the meaning of works by Native peoples inevitably changes through evaluation by the dominant culture. Red on Red is a call for self-determination on the part of Native writers and a demonstration of an important new approach to studying Native works-one that engages not only the literature, but also the community from which the work grew.

ISBN 0-8166-3022-4 Cloth £33.50 $47.95xx
ISBN 0-8166-3023-2 Paper £13.00 $18.95x
288 Pages 5 7/8 x 9 November
Translation inquiries: University of Minnesota Press

Red on Red

Craig S. Womack is assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. He is Muskogee Creek and Cherokee.

Red on Red

This is where any discussion of native literatures must begin, from the heart of the community, in this case-from the fire at the center of the ceremonial grounds. I always think of the story of a white anthropologist who asked a non-western people about their ideology, their philosophy. Their answer? We just dance.

Joy Harjo, author of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky and She Had Some Horses

Creek-Cherokee Womack has produced a groundbreaking literary work. It 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.

MultiCultural Review

The struggle of Native scholars to develop a distinctly Native literary criticism-one that draws from tribal histories, stories, and traditions, rather than accepting Eurocentric and often racist standards of critical and artistic sophistication-has seen varied degrees of success since the late 1970s. Now, at the edge of the colonizers’ millennium, easily one of the most nuanced, respectful, and penetrating examples of such scholarship has appeared in Craig Womack’s Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. This study is a welcome corrective to the too common insistence among many scholars in Native American literatures that there is still an all-encompassing, pan-Indian understanding of Native texts and cultural expressions. Womack distinguishes himself as, above all else, a sophisticated Creek scholar. Yet those of us from other Native traditions will find the book equally indispensable in its offering of a clear blueprint for writing about, expressing, and continuing our own histories and world views. Womack advocates not only a Native-centered understanding of Native literatures, but also a reevaluation of the entire concept of the American literary canon, centering that discussion in Indian Country. Red on Red stands as a powerful, evocative example of such a criticism and is vital reading for anyone-Indian and non-Indian alike-who seeks to better understand the literatures of America.

Great Plains Quarterly

Craig Womack’s book is a brave, controversial, and rich argument in favor of establishing a new Native American literary scholarship, driven by Native concerns and written either by Native scholars or by those with the language skills, cultural knowledge, and respect that non-Natives must possess if they are to assist with this project.

American Literature

Academicians will have no problems being drawn into the dialogue of Red on Red and stand to gain valuable insight and knowledge about Native American literature. There are fascinating bits of history, humorous stories, and little-known facts generously sprinkled throughout.

The Chronicles of Oklahoma

Red on Red is an important book for anyone, Native or non-Native, who would think seriously about and teach Native American literature.

College English