Monday, March 03, 2008

Lois Lenski Lecture

Last semester, I was invited to give the Lois Lenski Lecture at Illinois State University (ISU). The Lenski lecture series began in 1994, in honor of Lois Lenski, author of a great many books for children.

Last week, ISU's radio station did an interview of me, to run today (Monday) in advance of the lecture itself.

I talked about problematic texts like Little House on the Prairie, providing historical context for the book (some of which I've posted here in the last two weeks). And I talked about books I recommend, specifically Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer.

At the outset of the interview, the interviewer asked me about UIUC's mascot, what I think of it, and what I think of the student referendum last week. The referendum was on the UIUC student ballot last week. It asked if students want the mascot to be reinstated. It passed, 7000 or so in favor, 2000 or so opposed. UIUC is a large campus, with over 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

We went on to talk about the subject of my lecture, which is children's books. I talked about problematic texts like Little House on the Prairie, providing historical context for the book (some of which I've posted here in the last two weeks). And I talked about books I recommend, specifically Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer.

I tuned in this morning to listen to the interview. It was all of a minute long, but an interesting minute it was. Centered on the mascot. I was more than a bit perturbed with the pieces they used. I was surprised, too. I've done interviews about the mascot in the past, and about Y-Indian programs, and Boy Scouts, and I learned that media people selectively edit what I say. I've never been pleased with that editing. It is generally done in a way to make me sound a bit loony, or, like I hate all white people, or that I think they're all racist...

So I stopped doing those kinds of interviews. I thought the interview with ISU was about my study of children's books and I let my guard down. That was a mistake.

The interview is important, though, because it provides a window into all manner of human behavior and human action. The radio station is a media outlet. They're after a story. The one they think more of their listeners will want. So they went for the mascot angle.

Between now and 7:00 this evening, I'll be revising my remarks for the lecture, incorporating this episode.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought you might this interesting. Another fake memoir by someone claiming NA heritage:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/04/arts/04fake.php

secondwaver said...

I'm glad you are speaking up about the misuse of your words on the radio.

By the way, did yo mention the Lois Lenski children's novel, "Indian Captive," at all?

Debbie Reese said...

Secondwaver:

I have notes on Lenski's INDIAN CAPTIVE that I've yet to work into a coherent essay.

She also has a picture book called LITTLE SIOUX GIRL published in 1958 that I'd like to take a look at.

Anonymous:

I read the article in the NY Times last night when I got back to my hotel room. It says she presented herself as half Native, but nowhere did I find any reference to that Native identity. As far as I can tell, it doesn't figure in the fiction she wrote.

k8 said...

I saw the article this morning, and it does figure into things in the sense that it was originally marketed as a memoir, which would be read as a real representation. Between that and the fake holocaust memoir that was exposed last week, it's been an interesting time for memoirs.

As for that interview - I have to wonder why they even bother asking the other questions. Granted, I like children's lit. a lot, but I would think that would be the most interesting part of the interview since the mascot affair is so well-known. I guess this is why I'm not in charge of large media conglomerates.

LeeRoy said...

Cool. All of Your posts are very interesting.Thank you.

Vassia said...

Good morning :-)
While making a research to find books about native Americans, I run across your blog.

I am Greek.
As I have understand, you are talking about someone who claims to be something/someone is not.

Like fabricating "history".

I hope that you do not mind me leaving comment here.

I will continue reading, because, and that is true and not a compliment, living in a country with such great history, I couldn't pay my respects to a civilization like yours.
To all native Americans in both hemispheres.

Finally, would you be so kind as to reccomend some really good books to read?
Vassia

Vassia said...

Sorry, not hemispheres... North and South America.

anne said...

I'm amazed that you, of all people, are troubled by your words in an interview being selectively edited. Many of us have experienced the same, including me. But I've never had my(printed and published) words twisted to the degree you did in your blog about my book THANKSGIVING DAY. How you construed a fictional kindergarten child's words "..thankful that the beautiful land of Massachusetts had enough for everyone..." to mean that she was saying this justified white people's taking the land away from American Indians since they didn't know how to manage it. To quote you..."Wow!"

I have never said such a thing in print or out, have never thought such a thing, and can only hope there are readers who will go to the book and read it for what it says, not what you twist it to say.

Yours,
Anne Rockwell

deborah said...

Geez, she took the most vague reference she could find (not one of the more specific and unarguable) and turned it into an attack. I wonder if she's being a bit defensive???

Your review of her book was/is spot on, Debbie; you always say exactly what I wish I had the insight to say, and the guts. Sometimes in the classroom I have to remind myself and my students: If I'm not offending you, I'm doing something wrong.

You're doing everything right. No need to respond to her. She's got her ears covered and is droning, "I can't heeeeaaaaarrrrr you!"

You rock, Debbie, and I mean like an indigenous rock!

with all respect,
Deborah Miranda

Debbie Reese said...

On March 25, 2008, Anne Rockwell commented to this post. Below is her comment, followed by my response. I'm placing my response in CAPS in order to distinguish her words from mine. (I know caps generally means shouting. I'm not shouting.)

Anne Rockwell said:

I'm amazed that you, of all people, are troubled by your words in an interview being selectively edited. Many of us have experienced the same, including me. But I've never had my(printed and published) words twisted to the degree you did in your blog about my book THANKSGIVING DAY. How you construed a fictional kindergarten child's words "..thankful that the beautiful land of Massachusetts had enough for everyone..." to mean that she was saying this justified white people's taking the land away from American Indians since they didn't know how to manage it. To quote you..."Wow!"

I have never said such a thing in print or out, have never thought such a thing, and can only hope there are readers who will go to the book and read it for what it says, not what you twist it to say.

Yours,
Anne Rockwell

-----

ANNE,

I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT YOU HAVE NEVER SAID OR THOUGHT ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT AMERICAN INDIANS. HAVE YOU READ ANYTHING THAT AMERICAN INDIANS HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT THAT MOMENT IN HISTORY?

YOU OFFER AN INNOCENT VIEW OF THAT MOMENT IN HISTORY. BY THEN, IT WAS ALREADY FAR FROM INNOCENT, IT WAS ALREADY A BRUTAL STORY OF THEFT, CONFLICT, AND DISEASE.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NATIVE TRIBES THERE, ON THE EAST COAST?

I DID NOT TWIST YOUR WORDS. I READ WHAT YOU SAID FROM MY VIEW AS A NATIVE MOTHER AND PROFESSOR.