Friday, November 20, 2009

Dene writer blogs about HOUSE OF NIGHT

Sending you to "displaced Dene," a blog run by Tenille Campbell. She's got some things to say about the House of Night series... New link to Tenille Campbell's post about the House of Night series. (And thanks to Jennie for pointing me to the new link. Note: Link changed on April 26, 2011.)

Tenille Campbell is Dene (First Nations) from Northern Saskatchewan. From reading her site, I gather Campbell is studying writing at the University of British Columbia with the AWESOME Richard Van Camp. Regular readers know I think Richard's work is terrific. If I'm not mistaken, Nicola I. Campbell also studied writing with Richard. As noted earlier today, Nicola's book, Shin-chi's Canoe just won a major literature prize. So! We should keep an eye out for Tenille Campbell. She says that Richard has a new comic book out...  I should follow up on that!

Congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell... Shin-chi's Canoe wins major award

Sending my congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell, author of Shin-chi's Canoe. In the news today...  "Residential school story wins $25,000 kids' book award."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009

In this morning's "Google Alert" email (the one I set up using "Debbie Reese" +blog), I learned that Carol Rasco, the CEO of Reading is Fundamental, had blogged about Thanksgiving on her RIF blog. There, she wrote about American Indians in Children's Literature, and how it has impacted her thinking about Thanksgiving. (I must say, though, that as I read the excerpts she used from my site, I saw how unpolished my writing can be.)

Some time ago, I was invited to be on the Reading is Fundamental Literature Advisory Committee. Prior to that, I had come across the RIF's page for November and was, frankly, pretty upset. As I recall that day (this is a two-year-old memory), I was multi-tasking on my computer. I had several websites open in my browser, moving from one to the other. (As I compose this particular post, I've got seven pages open. This morning I watched the Cherokee Nation's video "What is a real Indian Nation? What is a fake tribe?" and I read an article on Slate about book trailers.) That morning, I went to the RIF page for November. It was garrish in appearance, with cartoon Indians and a mish-mash of elements of different tribes.

While I was studying that page, a song started playing. It was a Pueblo song that I know and listen to often because of its meaning for me. I quickly started looking around my computer, wondering how I had managed to turn it on with realizing it. (Think absent-minded professor.) None of the ways that I listen to the song were activated. I realized it was coming from the RIF page. Something there, with good intentions, had created that November page using stereotypical images and a Pueblo song. It was a grab-bag. Anything Indian, slammed together. Good to go. Of course, it was not good to go.  Through my work with RIF, they took that page down.

And so this morning, one week before Thanksgiving Day, reading Carol's blog, I am heartened to learn that my interaction with RIF is making a difference in Carol's views. Among other things, she wrote:

"I hear you, Debbie, and have several copies of The Good Luck Cat and Jingle Dancer among other titles in the “to be wrapped pile” for the coming holidays for presentation to special young friends."  

Saying "awesome!" to those words doesn't begin to capture how I feel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Debby Edwardson said...

I've spent the last week engaging in an online conversation on a site called Through the Tollbooth. There, like on American Indians in Children's Literature, I push writers to think about appropriation. Some people understand what I mean, others do not. It may be a failing in the way I say things. Debby Edwardson, one of the hosts of that week-long conversation, has some closing thoughts that I am sending you to read. She understands issues of appropriation, stereotyping, power, retellings of stories...  And, she did a terrific job of laying them out for her fellow writers on the Tollbooth site.

Here's an excerpt:

Debbie Reese said, “There are some things that I think non-Native writers ought to stay away from: religion, spirituality, worship.”

She also said something very provocative: “Most Native writers don't even put that in their books. Why do non-Native writers feel the need to do it?”

The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important.

Okay. Time's up. Let’s be totally honest here. We all know that if we as writers are, say, Christian, it is not okay to preach in our books, not even obliquely. It’s not even okay to mention religion except in passing, very casually, in a nondenominational sort of way. Unless of course it’s a problem novel in which religion is the problem. These are the rules and we all know that if we don’t follow the rules we will not sell our books, except maybe to Christian niche publishers.

In fact, what Debbie said about Native writers not writing about their religious beliefs is also true for most Christian writers—writers like Katherine Patterson, for example, or Madeline L’Engle. They do not take us into their inner sanctuary of their own spiritual world. CS Lewis has been soundly criticized for sliding his Christianity in sideways.

See what I mean? Go over and read the rest of what she said. And, if you're inclined, read over posts going back to November 9th.