Read a book by a Native American author.
June 1, 2021
Discover the lives of Native Americans, both past and present, through the works they have created.
This list is part of the 2021 Adult Summer Reading program.
An American Sunrise
In the early 1800s, the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. Two hundred years later, Joy Harjo returns to her family’s lands and opens a dialogue with history.
From her memory of her mother’s death, to her beginnings in the Native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo’s personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings. Her poems sing of beauty and survival, illuminating a spirituality that connects her to her ancestors and thrums with the quiet anger of living in the ruins of injustice.
Black Elk Speaks
Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux
The life of Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk as he led his tribe’s battle against white settlers who threatened their homes and buffalo herds, and describes the victories and tragedies at Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee.
The winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer
As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as “the younger brothers of creation.” As she explores these themes she circles toward a central argument: the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world.
Kelli Jo Ford
Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine—a mixed-blood Cherokee woman—and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country.
Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces like wildfires and tornadoes-intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home. In lush and empathic prose, Kelli Jo Ford depicts what this family of proud, stubborn women sacrifice for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture.
Empire of Wild
Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for nearly a year—ever since that terrible night they’d had their first serious argument. Still grieving and severely hungover, Joan hears Victor’s unmistakable voice coming from inside a revival tent in a gritty Walmart parking lot.
He has the same face, the same eyes, the same hands. He doesn’t recognize Joan, insists his name is Eugene Wolff, and that he is a reverend whose mission is to spread the word of Jesus and grow His flock. Joan turns to Ajean, an elderly foul-mouthed card shark who is one of the few among Métis community steeped in the traditions of the Métis people and knowledgeable about their ancient enemies.
Future Home of the Living God
A tale set in a world of reversing evolution and a growing police state follows pregnant thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, who investigates her biological family while awaiting the birth of a child who may emerge as a member of a primitive human species.
Terese Marie Mailhot
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest.
Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder, Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father-an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee
Native America From 1890 to the Present
An anthropologist’s chronicle of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present traces the unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention of distinctive tribal cultures that assimilated into mainstream life to preserve Native identity.
The Heartsong of Charging Elk
A witness to the battle of Little Big Horn as a child, Charging Elk, an Oglala Sioux, is recruited by Buffalo Bill Cody to join his Wild West show, which creates a sensation in the capital cities of Europe, until he is left behind—because of illness and a bureaucratic mix-up—in the strange, unfamiliar world of Marseille.
House Made of Dawn
N. Scott Momaday
A young Native American, Abel has come home from a foreign war to find himself caught between two worlds. The first is the world of his father’s, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, and the ancient rites and traditions of his people. But the other world—modern, industrial America—pulls at Abel, demanding his loyalty, claiming his soul, goading him into a destructive, compulsive cycle of dissipation and disgust. And the young man, torn in two, descends into hell.
Jim Thorpe played professional football and major league baseball, and won Olympic gold medals in track and field. He’ll be forever revered by the sports community and by his Native American community.
Born on the Sac and Fox Reservation, Jim was sent as a young boy to various Indian boarding schools—strict, cold places that didn’t allow their students to hold on to their Native American traditions. Jim ran away from school many times, until he found his calling at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle School. There, coach Pop Warner recognized Jim’s athletic excellence and welcomed him onto the football and track teams. Glory followed, as did a surprising disgrace. But through everything, Jim was a person to admire—an engaging, spirited, and impressive young man. Told in Jim’s voice, this is a rousing, fascinating read about a truly great American.
One Stick Song
A collection of poetry and prose reflecting on contemporary Native American life.
The Only Good Indians
Stephen Graham Jones
Peter Straub’s Ghost Story meets Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies in this American Indian horror story of revenge on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation, who were childhood friends, find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives, against an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier by killing them, their families, and friends.
Roads to Quoz
An American Mosey
William Least Heat Moon
Recounts the author’s series of journeys into small-town America, visits during which he performed life-enhancing investigations into some of the nation’s most incongruous regions.
Chronicles the emotional war between Irene America, a beautiful, introspective woman of Native American ancestry, struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children, and her husband Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now iconic portraits of Irene.
Twelve Native Americans came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons.
Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxedrene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work the powwow and to honor his uncle’s memory. Edwin Frank has come to find his true father. Bobby Big Medicine has come to drum the Grand Entry. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather; Orvil has taught himself Indian dance through YouTube videos, and he has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. Tony Loneman is a young Native American boy whose future seems destined to be as bleak as his past, and he has come to the Powwow with darker intentions—intentions that will destroy the lives of everyone in his path.
A multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people.
Where the Dead Sit Talking
A spare, lyrical Native American coming of age story set in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his unstable upbringing, Sequoyah has spent years mostly keeping to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface—that is, until he meets the seventeen-year-old Rosemary, another youth staying with the Troutts. Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American backgrounds and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Follows three generations of Indian women beset by hardships and torn by angry secrets, yet inextricably bound together by the indissoluble bonds of kinship