Summer Reading List
A good book can be hard to find, even more so one that’s Native-focused. When I was young and would get into trouble, my dad wouldn’t ground me. Instead, he’d often give me a topic to research or a book to read – always on Lakota culture – and have me write a short paper on what I learned. So, I have a couple of recommended books you might consider diving into this summer, an old favorite and a new release.
“Black Elk Speaks” by John Neihardt is one of the first books I ever read and what I consider a cornerstone of Native works. Written in 1932 and sometimes referred to as a spiritual autobiography, the book is a recounting of conversations and interviews with Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man. Black Elk lived through an incredibly transforming period for Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century.
There are few easily accessible recordings, written or otherwise, of these past generations and their stories. I remember reading the Black Elk story and feeling like I was being told a story by my own grandfather – like I was sitting right in front of him listening. The events seem to have happened so long ago, yet only a handful of generations have passed since they occurred. The “retelling” creates a personal experience that brings more weight than most word-of-mouth stories. I’ve yet to find anyone who didn’t appreciate Black Elk’s recounting of these events, so if you haven’t already, I recommend you read “Black Elk Speaks.”
A good friend of mine recently recommended “There There” by Tommy Orange, a creative writing instructor at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This book was released last month and is already a New York Times Best Seller. “There There” follows Native Americans in California struggling with various challenges, and Orange uses traditional storytelling to hook readers in, before leading into more complex themes of the modern urban Indian.
The book goes beyond Native history and perceptions and into how we reconcile the past with the themes of today. Orange offered his perspective on telling these stories in a recent interview. I’m only a couple of chapters into it, but so far, it’s one of the better modern works of Indian life I’ve come across.
It’s more common to find romanticized versions of Native history and stories. These recommendations offer both a historical and modern theme that gives insight into present-day Native life. Happy Reading!