Monday, May 24, 2010

One of the perqs

One of the best things about working in academia is that I get to see writers reading their work in person. We have a number of writers who come to our campus each year to give readings and answer questions--about their subject matter, about their process. Going to hear them is like enjoying a little oasis in the usual routine of classes, meetings, e-mail; it's a little island of creativity and ideas and language. It reminds me of why I aimed myself toward this career in the first place: I love the written word, and I love hearing stories.

Just recently I was able to go hear a reading at another campus down the road apiece (Ohio State) in the big city (I felt like such a country mouse!).

(There was even traffic! Oh my!)

I made a point of clearing my calendar for the afternoon so that I could make the trek down there because this reading was being given by the person who wrote one of my all-time favorite novels:

LeAnne Howe!

She showed a few minutes of Playing Pastime, a documentary she created with James Fortier about baseball in Indian Country, read from Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (the novel), and answered questions.

In addition to writing poetry, fiction, drama, and documentary, she is also responsible for theorizing one of the most compelling ideas in American Indian Studies, to my way of thinking: tribalography. (Is there anything this woman can't do? She even has a blog. And has appeared on The Daily Show.) For a complete exploration of it, you'll want to read her chapter in the book Clearing a Path: Theorizing the Past in Native American Studies (ed. Nancy Shoemaker), but one of its foundations is that the way we tell a story about something or someone shapes how we understand that thing, and that, because of this, storytelling makes things happen. Wow.

(Okay, I cheated a bit: this is a photo of her reading back in March at another university, but I was so busy listening & taking notes during her reading that I didn't take any photos 'til later...)

In the Q&A period at the reading, she focused more on explaining another thread of tribalography: that it is more inclusive than autobiography and history, that it includes people from the past and present, Indians and non-Indians, working together to make and understand the world. It's a compelling vision of how we all work together, through the endless varieties of our creations, to tell a story of who we are...

One of the things we asked her to clarify at the reading was something she called "my fictional life, or my life in fiction." She said that everyone sees himself or herself as a fictional character, imagines the self in a story, but that this is especially true for writers. She said that when she finishes a writing project, she executes the self she was during that project; she will never be that person again. With the next project, she has to rebirth herself, continue the process of finding out who she is. (This theory reminded me of reader-response theory, only from the writer's perspective, and a lot more intense!)

My big disappointment was that I didn't find out about her second talk of the visit (the next day) until my calendar had stuff on it I couldn't rearrange. She presented new work on mounds--what they mean, how they function, what they tell us... Having been to the Newark Earthworks Day events the past few years, and living now in an area of the country where these sacred structures are all over, I'm keenly interested in this topic. I guess I'll have to wait, like the rest of us, until her new work is published!

Okay, now here's the non-intellectual part of this post: I was thrilled to meet LeAnne and chat with her.

(Could my smile be any bigger? I don't think so..)

Miko Kings
is one of my favorite novels of all time. Why? Because I fell in love with the characters, and my heart breaks and soars with them; because I believe the woo-woo parts**; because it includes journal pages and marginalia (written by a character) and newspaper articles from the early 1900s and a song by John Lennon and quantum physics; because the characters--all of them, Indian and non-Indian--seem like people I might have met; because it makes me feel like I'm in Oklahoma in 1907, a setting I hadn't given much thought to before; and because it makes me feel like we are all making a world together and everything matters--baseball, mathematics, songs, stories, language, weather, all of it.

I love LeAnne Howe's work and was thrilled to meet her because I feel in my bones that she is telling the truth about us. She is onto something.

May you experience something true today!

** In academic circles, this is more properly known as magical realism--you know, stuff about ghosts and whatnot. But the term is controversial, in part because it implies that the more magical stuff that happens in life is not, in fact, real... which some of us might argue with...

P.S. Most college campuses have readings and lectures all the time, and most are free and open to the public, so if you'd like to experience an oasis of creativity, check out your nearest college campus and make some time in your schedule for something to feed your soul!


  1. You do look totally ecstatic in the picture. And yes that is one of the percs of your world - firsthand contact with writers, a notoriously reclusive bunch!

  2. Yes, I am a lucky gal. Thanks for commenting, Reya!

  3. Would love to meet next week. Email me and let's figure it out!