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Sovereign Stories

Aesthetics, Autonomy and Contemporary Native American Writing

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Padraig Kirwan

Sovereign Stories examines contemporary Native American writers’ engagement with various forms of cultural, political, and artistic sovereignty. The author considers literature’s ability to initiate vital discussions about tribal autonomy in modern America and suggests that innovative literary styles are a compelling articulation of the connection between aesthetic and political concerns. In so doing, he concentrates on fictional and poetic forms, the structure and imagery of which comment on indigenous autonomy, selfdetermination, and artistic activism. Offering original selective analysis of the fiction and poetry of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Sherman Alexie, David Treuer, LeAnne Howe, Louise Erdrich, Greg Sarris, and Craig Womack, this book explores these tribal authors’ concern with intellectual and creative sovereignty and deftly links those interests to the broader cultural and political issues faced by Native American communities today.

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Chapter 3 “Indigenous to the Land, an Immigrant to the Culture”: Sherman Alexie and the Third Space

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of Sovereignty Twenty years ago, we never knew we’d spend the rest of our lives in the reservation of our minds, never knew we’d stand outside the gates of the Spokane Indian Reservation without a key to let ourselves back inside.1 — Sherman Alexie In a recent interview with Enrique Cerna, the author Sherman Alexie stated, quite simply: “I’ve traveled all over the place; I’m published in twenty- two countries; I’ve been in places where no Spokane Indian has been.”2 Undoubtedly ref lecting the self-assurance that is so often associated with the author, Alexie’s declaration also establishes an important line of con- nection between the personal vision of his Spokane/Coeur d’Alene herit- age in the first instance, and of his status as a writer in the second. With regard to his tribal heritage, Alexie has professed to be “very aware of my Spokaneness” and has often been at pains to point out that the “tribe heavily inf luences [his] personality and the ways in which [he sees] the world.”3 Much of that inf luence emanates not only from his experience of growing 1 Sherman Alexie, First Indian on the Moon (New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1993), 104. 2 Sherman Alexie, Conversations at KCTS 9, directed by Enrique Cerna (Seattle: PBS—KCTS, 2008). 3 Åse Nygren, “A World of Story-Smoke: A Conversation with Sherman Alexie,” MELUS 30.4, Home: Forged or Forged? (Winter 2005), 155. 66 Chapter 3 up on the reservation in Washington, but also from his relationship with his...

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