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The People and the Word

Reading Native Nonfiction

2005
Author:

Robert Warrior

The People and the Word

Reveals the history and impact of Native American nonfiction writing

The People and the Word explores how the Native tradition of nonfiction has both encompassed and dissected Native experiences. Robert Warrior traces a history of American Indian nonfiction writing, including Pequot intellectual William Apess's autobiographical works; the Osage Constitution of 1881; accounts of boarding school in the late 1880s; and modern Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday's essay “The Man Made of Words.”

A tremendously exciting and long-overdue project in the intellectual development centered around American Indian studies.

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, coauthor of Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law

Much literary scholarship has been devoted to the flowering of Native American fiction and poetry in the mid-twentieth century. Yet, Robert Warrior argues, nonfiction has been the primary form used by American Indians in developing a relationship with the written word, one that reaches back much further in Native history and culture.

Focusing on autobiographical writings and critical essays, as well as communally authored and political documents, The People and the Word explores how the Native tradition of nonfiction has both encompassed and dissected Native experiences. Warrior begins by tracing a history of American Indian writing from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century, then considers four particular moments: Pequot intellectual William Apess’s autobiographical writings from the 1820s and 1830s; the Osage Constitution of 1881; narratives from American Indian student experiences, including accounts of boarding school in the late 1880s; and modern Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday’s essay “The Man Made of Words,” penned during the politically charged 1970s. Warrior’s discussion of Apess’s work looks unflinchingly at his unconventional life and death; he recognizes resistance to assimilation in the products of the student print shop at the Santee Normal Training School; and in the Osage Constitution, as well as in Momaday’s writing, Warrior sees reflections of their turbulent times as well as guidance for our own.

Taking a cue from Momaday’s essay, which gives voice to an imaginary female ancestor, Ko-Sahn, Warrior applies both critical skills and literary imagination to the texts. In doing so, The People and the Word provides a rich foundation for Native intellectuals’s critical work, deeply entwined with their unique experiences.

The People and the Word

Robert Warrior is professor of English and Native American studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is author of Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (Minnesota, 1994) and coauthor, with Paul Chaat Smith, of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee.

The People and the Word

A tremendously exciting and long-overdue project in the intellectual development centered around American Indian studies.

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, coauthor of Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law

Warrior’s careful historical recovery, insightful analysis, rythmic prose, and compassionate sensibility, forcefully solidify the significant presence of a Native nonfiction tradition firmly anchored within the real experiences of real people.

MELUS

Warrior makes a compelling case for greater critical attention to and appreciation for Native nonfiction. Recommended.

Choice

The People and the Word

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Reading Experience in Native Nonfiction

1. Eulogy on William Apess: His Writerly Life and His New York Death
2. Democratic Vistas of the Osage Constitutional Crisis
3. The Work of Indian Pupils: Narratives of Learning in Native American Literature
4. Momaday in the Movement Years: Rereading “The Man Made of Words”

Conclusion: Intellectual Trade Routes

Appendix: The 1881 Constitution of the Osage Nation

Notes
Bibliography
Index