Books by Paula Gunn Allen

Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Allen and Smith eschew polemics to deliver a collection of biographies marked by integrity and balance. The title is taken from the language of many treaties between Native Americans and the US government; meant to mean ``forever,'' the phrase was honored more often in the government's breach than not. The book is inclusive, covering contemporary figures as well as historical ones: Subjects, from many tribes and of both sexes, were selected for their success in politics, the arts, and sports- -and, readers may sense, with the Iroquois wisdom firmly in mind that those ``doing the deciding should think about the seven generations in front of them and about the seven generations in back of them,'' since the achievements highlighted reflect and reaffirm traditional native values as well. While most readers will know of Louise Erdrich, Will Rogers, Geronimo, and Wilma Mankiller, few will recognize Weetamoo, the Pocasset warrior who served as sachem, or leader, of her tribe of the Algonquin nation during Pilgrim times. Also included are athlete Jim Thorpe; ballerina Maria Tallchief; Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell; and sculptor Michael Naranjo. For each, Allen and Smith provide a cultural mosaic into which that person's life fits. This distinguished book merits a place on every shelf, not just those built to meet multicultural needs. (index, b&w photos and illustrations, not seen, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
SONG OF THE TURTLE by Paula Gunn Allen
Released: Aug. 1, 1996

Allen, a prolific Native American poet and novelist, follows up an earlier anthology of modern American Indian fiction (Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature 1900-1970, not reviewed) with a second volume bringing her sampling of the field up to date. This remarkably diverse collection underlines the fact that there has been an explosive growth in both the quantity and quality of fiction being produced by Native Americans. Allen shrewdly mixes familiar voices (Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie) with less well-known writers (Louis Owens, Susan Power, Luci Tapahanso). Allen suggests some defining characteristics of this ``second wave'' of work: ``a sense of renewal and hope, reasserted, often deeply angry, Native identity; and incorporation of ritual elements in both structure and content.'' That seems right, but it should be added that the stories often reflect a ferocious sense of humor, a deft mingling of spirituality and the everyday, and a wonderfully exact feel for the details of family life. Superb introduction to a distinctive literature of real power. A volume devoted to memoirs and essays would be welcome. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 23, 1991

A scholarly yet charming compilation of distinctly feminine Native American legends—a continuation of the explorations that Allen (English/UCLA) began in The Sacred Hoop (1986) and Spider Woman's Granddaughters (a 1990 American Book Award). Concentrating on creation myths and their reflections in ancient and contemporary ritual, Allen, a Laguna Pueblo/Sioux Indian, blends a wealth of North American tribal tales into 21 elegantly phrased explications of what she terms the ``cosmogyny'' (the ``ordered universe arranged in harmony with gynocratic principles''), a concept all but lost, she says, with the incursion of European patriarchal thought. Far from a one-sided feminist view, the emphasis is on balance, with opposing forces (mortal/supernatural, masculine/feminine, individual/community) seeking ``completion rather than adversariness and opposition.'' As Changing Woman, one of the manifestations of the ``Great Goddess'' common to Native American lore, explains to her suitor, the Sun, ``You and I are of the same spirit stuff and so we are of equal worth...if there can be no harmony between us, then there can never be harmony any place in the universe.'' The best of the stories are respectful retellings of essentially timeless myths, suffused with a gently playful humor. Less successful are several slightly strained attempts to transport the narrative to present-day settings. Not that there isn't a purpose here, for Allen takes seriously Mayan prophecies of renewed attention to the supernatural within the next century, characterizing her work as a guide for ``...the process of return, enabling women to recover our ancient medicine ways...'' An unusual prescription, perhaps, but within the confines of this enchanting work, an effortlessly easy one to swallow. A winsome and valuable addition to the growing catalogues of Native American, spiritual, and feminist studies. (Seven b&w illustrations—not seen.)*justify no* Read full book review >