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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 7 “Not a Chaotic Wake, Not an Empty Space”: The Future of Art, Life, and Criticism in the


Chapter 7 “Not a Chaotic Wake, Not an Empty Space”:1 The Future of Art, Life, and Criticism in the Work of Craig Womack and Greg Sarris We could never write enough to say what stories are, how they function, or what methodologies might be best for considering them as primary criti- cal tools, in a sort of meta-stories critical process. In fact stories may lead to, may have already led us to, theories and then back again to stories.2 — Gordon D. Henry, Jr. This time […] don’t be daydreaming. Put your mind on the story.3 — Craig Womack First a story.4 — Greg Sarris Graham Swift’s novel Waterland, which lends this final chapter its title, examines the manner in which stories are never fully complete, or defini- tive, but are instead skewed by eruptions or retellings that often challenge grand narratives and symbolic orders, be they historical, cultural, familial, or otherwise. Throughout the book, Tom Crick, Swift’s narrator, struggles 1 Graham Swift, Waterland (New York: Vintage, 1992), 63. 2 Gordon Henry, Jr., Nieves Pascual Soler, and Silvia Martinez-Falquina, Stories Through Theories/Theories Through Stories: North American Indian Writing, Storytelling, and Critique (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009), 18. 3 Craig Womack, Drowning In Fire (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001), 7. 4 Greg Sarris, Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 25. 264 Chapter 7 to impose a sense of order through the act of storytelling, thereby trying to frame the...

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