Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice

Overview

This provocative collection of essays reveals the passionate voice of a Native American feminist intellectual. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a poet and literary scholar, grapples with issues she encountered as a Native American in academia. She asks questions of critical importance to tribal people:  who is telling their stories, where does cultural authority lie, and most important, how is it possible to develop an authentic tribal literary voice within the academic community?
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Overview

This provocative collection of essays reveals the passionate voice of a Native American feminist intellectual. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a poet and literary scholar, grapples with issues she encountered as a Native American in academia. She asks questions of critical importance to tribal people:  who is telling their stories, where does cultural authority lie, and most important, how is it possible to develop an authentic tribal literary voice within the academic community?
    In the title essay, “Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner,” Cook-Lynn objects to Stegner’s portrayal of the American West in his fiction, contending that no other author has been more successful in serving the interests of the nation’s fantasy about itself. When Stegner writes that “Western history sort of stopped at 1890,” and when he claims the American West as his native land, Cook-Lynn argues, he negates the whole past, present, and future of the native peoples of the continent. Her other essays include discussion of such Native American writers as Michael Dorris, Ray Young Bear, and N. Scott Momaday; the importance of a tribal voice in academia, the risks to American Indian women in current law practices, the future of Indian Nationalism, and the defense of the land.
    Cook-Lynn emphasizes that her essays move beyond the narrowly autobiographical, not just about gender and power, not just focused on multiculturalism and diversity, but are about intellectual and political issues that engage readers and writers in Native American studies. Studying the “Indian,” Cook-Lynn reminds us, is not just an academic exercise but a matter of survival for the lifeways of tribal peoples. Her goal in these essays is to open conversations that can make tribal life and academic life more responsive to one another.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Book reviews dressed up as essays; slipshod polemic dressed up as scholarly discourse.

It is not so much that Sioux novelist, poet, and academic Cook-Lynn (From the River's Edge, 1991, etc.) cannot read the work of the late Western historian and novelist Wallace Stegner; it is that she will not ("my reading in the work of Wallace Stegner is minimally undertaken"). She builds this thin collection around a misapprehension of Stegner's thought, namely, that he maintains that American Indian history (and, by implication, American Indian life) ends in 1890, with the closing of the frontier. As a result, Cook-Lynn goes on to assert that Indian history should be written by Indians alone. In some cases she makes good points, as when she dissects Ruth Beebe Hill's allegedly factual account of the Sioux in the spun-from-whole-cloth novel Hanta Yo, but she is hard-pressed to know who the enemy is when Native American writers like N. Scott Momaday opine that Hanta Yo is, after all, a pretty good read. Objecting to Stegner's view of himself as a native Westerner, Cook-Lynn makes the tired argument that only American Indians can claim to be native to the continent. Along the way she dismisses writers like John Updike, "a white, male member of a prosperous and efficient Euro-American (i.e., white) capitalist democracy," and criticizes Michael Dorris, a mixed-blood, for having written negatively of the alcoholic Sioux mother of his adopted, brain-damaged son. Her book abounds with errors—among other things, she attributes the novel Dances with Wolves to Norman Maclean (it was written by Michael Blake).

A shoddy piece of work full of self-satisfied platitudes that bespeak an absolutist worldview not open to debate.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299151447
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,053,149
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, is professor emerita of English and Native studies at Eastern Washington University. She is a writer of poetry and fiction, a consultant in Native American studies, and a founding editor of the journal Wicazo Sa Review. Her other books include From the River’s Edge, The Power of Horses and Other Stories, Seek the House of Relatives, and Then the Badger Said This.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction
Pt. 1 Thoughts on the Art of Reviewing Books 3
1 Wounded Knee, 1973 7
2 The Broken Cord 11
3 Black Eagle Child 17
4 Black Hills, White Justice 21
Pt. 2 Dispossession
5 Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner 29
6 A Centennial Minute from Indian Country; or Lessons in Christianizing the Aboriginal Peoples of America from the Example of Bishop William Hobart Hare 41
Pt. 3 Who Will Tell the Stories?
7 The Relationship of a Writer to the Past: Art, a Literary Principle, and the Need to Narrate 63
8 The American Indian Fiction Writers: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, the Third World, and First Nation Sovereignty 78
Pt. 4 Women's Lives
9 The American Indian Woman in the Ivory Tower 99
10 The Big Pipe Case 110
Pt. 5 The Last Word 129
11 How Scholarship Comes to Be Relevant, or Dumbarton Oaks Is Fifty Years Old 131
12 America's Oldest Racism: The Roots of Inequality 136
13 End of the Failed Metaphor 142
Notes 153
Selected Bibliography 157
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