Sunday, March 30, 2008


As noted yesterday, I've been in Minnesota this week at the Native American Literature Symposium. I met many terrific Native writers, including Heid Erdrich, Gordon Henry, Evelina Zuni Lucero, and Hershman John. In an afternoon session, I laughed aloud in Hershman's session, and snapped up a copy of his book, I Swallow Turquoise for Courage.

Hershman talked about Coyote. And then he showed us an animated short of Coyote. Made in 1965, "Coyote and the Lizard" is an old film, low-tech in comparison to present day animation, but it was hilarious. In it, some little lizards are playing, sliding down a hill on flat rocks, much like snowboarding. Their grandpa watches them as they play. Along comes Coyote. He wants to play, too, but the grandpa, knowing Coyote is trouble, tells him "No, you can't play. You're just going to be bad." Coyote asks again and again and again, promising he won't be naughty, so the grandpa finally says ok and tells him to get a thin rock. Coyote gleefully gets a rock and takes his ride, but it is too slow for him. He wants to go faster, so gets a bigger and heavier rock to slide down on...

All the while, the little lizards watch Coyote. Their expressions are terrific---smiling, happy, then wide-eyed and open-mouthed as they see Coyote's too-big rock. Going way too fast, he tumbles head-first off the rock, which overtakes him and then the rock rides Coyote down the hill.

The film was made for Navajo schools, and the narration is in their language. Hershman translated it as it played, with perfect timing and delivery. He remembers it from his own childhood. After the film, he read aloud a poem from his book, in which the Coyote story figures prominently. That poem is here.

Read more about Hershman by visiting his webpage, and get his book from the University of Arizona Press. Hershman's book can be used in high school English classes.

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