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Sovereign Stories

Aesthetics, Autonomy and Contemporary Native American Writing


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 5 Portrait of the Artist: Authority, Autonomy, and Authorship in Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Ta


g Reviewers of Louise Erdrich’s novel Shadow Tag (2010) have been some- what divided in their understanding of the creative and personal energies that shaped the novel. Washington Post staf f writer Ron Charles is keen to separate Shadow Tag’s fictional representation of marital discord and domestic abuse from the biographical detail surrounding Erdrich’s rela- tionship with the late Michael Dorris in his analysis of the novel, in which Erdrich’s protagonist, Irene America, writes a work of diary fiction (the red diary) while keeping a purportedly non-fictional diary (the blue journal). “Shadow Tag is no roman à clef, no act of spousal revenge,” Charles insists, before rejecting outright the idea that Erdrich’s grim tale is informed by events in the author’s own life.1 To his mind, neither the novel’s account of a successful creative and personal union that enters freefall and ends in a bitter divorce, nor its af fecting account of suicide, can be linked to real-life events; events that include the dissolution of the Erdrich–Dorris marriage in 1996 and the Dartmouth professor’s suicide in 1997, following the loss of the woman described in the popular press as “his muse, writing partner, and mother of his daughters.”2 On the contrary, Charles argues, the novel 1 “Love in the Time of Bitterness,” review of Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag, Washington Post (February 3 2010) accessed April 26, 2012. 2 Michelle Green, “The Final Chapter: Facing Divorce and Sex-Abuse Allegations, Author Michael Dorris Takes His Own Life,” People Magazine (April 28,...

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