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22 Books By Indigenous Writers to Read Right Now

Novels, poetry, essays, and memoirs by Indigenous writers.

As Indigenous author Tommy Orange points out, it’s ironic that November, the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, is also Native American Heritage month. Or perhaps “it isn’t irony but something else”—a fraught acknowledgement of the violent, colonialist foundation on which America is built.

Reading work by Indigenous authors should be something we do all year long, but November is a good month to add some new titles to your book shelves. I asked staff and friends of the CHIRB to recommend their favorites. To pick up these books isn’t the same as taking direct action to support Indigenous rights and culture. But they will broaden your perspective, as well as your reading list.

Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets’s Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers shows the radical possibilities of literature and characterization, when Indigenous people are in charge of our own representation. — Tommy Pico, author of Feed

New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid E. Erdrich

In New Poets of Native Nations, editor Heid E. Erdrich has done diligent, thoughtful, and generous work in gathering twenty-one new poets representing a broad and compelling range of ages, cultures, languages, and writing styles into a compact anthology that feels not only essential to considering what contemporary Native poems look like but what contemporary American poetry and history look like too.  — Ashley Strosnider, Managing Editor of Prairie Schooner and the African Poetry Book Fund

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

If systemic injustice is built upon a foundation of private human pain, then the late Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse reads like a darkly lyric blueprint of Canada’s brutality toward a generation of First Nation’s children. Stolen from their families and imprisoned in residential schools it would be hard to overstate the cruelty and devastation wrought upon these children in the name of faith and empire. But for all the pain this novel depicts there is a generous and unlikely thread of joy through it all, manifested in the main character’s love of hockey; this is slyly one of the best novels ever written about a sport. — Jonny Diamond, Literary Hub Editor-in-Chief

Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling

Debra Magpie Earling’s Perma Red (out of print; I’m desperate to see it re-released) is a book of complications, poisons, medicines, snakes, and men’s violent desires they call love; the widespread violence against Indigenous women has largely been ignored in U.S. society, and while the statistics are appalling, the deep interior of fiction seems more potent as a force of disturbance. — Elissa Washuta, author of My Body Is a Book of Rules and co-editor of Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers

Trial of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Urban fantasy meets the rez in the first volume of Rebecca Roanhorse’s heavens-storming post-apolyacptic Sixth World series. With monster hunter Maggie Hoskie, Roanhorse doesn’t just create a hero as compelling as Seanan McGuire’s October Daye or Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan — Maggie’s less created than she is unleashed, a flawed and fascinating badass stomping the wicked from Dinétah country. — Alan Scherstuhl, editor and writer

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos

Febos’s magnificent memoir-in-essays deals with her attempt to recover and reconnect with her father, and in attempting to do so, she fearlessly combs through memories of her past along with ancient and modern cultural myths in an attempt to find footing. — Michael J Seidlinger, author of My Pet Serial Killer

Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Alexis Wright’s second novel is set in a tiny town in Western Queensland, where myth, religion, Indigenous culture, and colonial politics merge and swirl into a story that’s utterly unforgettable. — Amy Brady, CHIRB Editor-in-Chief

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer brings together Indigenous teachings and plant ecology in a gorgeous exploration of our many relationships with other species; her essays, on topics that range across the natural world, help us envision a future in which the autonomy of all living things is respected. — Corinne Segal, Literary Hub Senior Editor

Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media by Heid E. Erdrich

Heid E. Erdrich is the author of several books of poetry, including a National Poetry Series selection forthcoming from Penguin, and is the editor of the brilliant anthology of indigenous poetry, New Poets of Native Nations. Her most recent collection, Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media, is an interdisciplinary exploration of what it means to be alive in a time when art and technology change and become obsolete so rapidly. — Timothy Otte, poet and critic

How We Became Human by Joy Harjo

In June of this year, Harjo was appointed our newest U.S. Poet Laureate, well deserved. How We Became Human gives a wonderful overview of a decades-long career of refocusing the world toward the unnameable, as in my favorite poem of here, “My House is the Read Earth”: “Words cannot construct it, for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form.” Maybe Harjo’s words are not sacred wordless forms, but they’re close. — Kyle Williams, CHIRB Director of Communications

Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones

The formal complexity of Ledfeather cannot be overstated—it includes upwards of ten unnamed narrators, letters, and two central narratives set one hundred years apart—but beyond its time-bending form, its final chapter is so unbelievably satisfying, I have yet to put it down without tears welling in my eyes. — Garrett Biggs, CHIRB contributor and Managing Editor of The Adroit Journal

Streaming by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

The poems in Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Streaming are in conversation with Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and music of humans and nature as she contemplates both what it means to be an “American” and the seemingly dire fate of our planet— two things that turn out to disastrously connected. — Mandy Medley, Director at Nectar Literary

Future Home of a Living God by Louise Erdrich

I’d recommend Future Home of a Living God because it’s a thought-provoking piece of literary climate fiction that is particularly powerful because of the way in which it evokes both the sense of vulnerability pregnant women experience, and the innate determination women have to protect their unborn children against all threats. — M.E. Rolle, Editor-in-Chief, Stag Hill Literary Journal

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Set in Western Australia during the early nineteenth century, Scott’s third novel is an exhilarating if ultimately heartbreaking first-contact story between the Aboriginal Noongar people and European settlers. — Amy Brady, CHIRB Editor-in-Chief

Savage Conversations by LeAnne Howe

Savage Conversations is both ghost story and nightmare. In her rooms at Bellevue Place Sanitarium, Mary Todd Lincoln is confronted by apparitions of a “Savage Indian,” one of 38 members of the Dakota tribe hung by order of President Lincoln in 1862. Howe masterfully collapses fiction with poetry, drama, and archival research; the past with the present; and nationalist history with the truth. It’s utterly terrifying. — Kristen Evans, book critic and culture writer

There There by Tommy Orange

Orange’s deeply layered, brilliantly diverse Native American characters are masterfully voiced: each is so distinctive and so honestly rendered that, despite the book’s frequent narratorial shifts, the reader is never confused about whose story is being told. — Mathangi Subramanian, author of A People’s History of Heaven

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

The linguistic excavations in Whereas are subtle, like incisions, taking apart a grammatical form here and there surgically, pulling things out, until it’s the whole chest that’s open, seemingly all of language laid bare so we can see its violence, its force, but its potential too. Layli Long Soldier is performing open-heart surgery in Whereas, trying to figure out how it is the thing’s still beating, or why it’s not, or where it is—”And by there,” she writes, “I mean here all around us I remind them.” — Kyle Williams, CHIRB Director of Communications

Dogside Story by Patricia Grace

This looping, lyrical novel set in a coastal Maori community depicts that community in turmoil as the new millennium approaches, and along with it, the threat of visitors from around the world who want to witness the millennium’s first sunrise. — Amy Brady, CHIRB Editor-in-Chief

Winter in the Blood by James Welch

With a frank, familiar depiction of the narrator’s life and travels, James Welch’s Winter in the Blood reads as both an odyssey for Indians afflicted with wanderlust for our lost land, and a parable for those already damaged by it. — Dennis E. Staples, author of the forthcoming novel This Town Sleeps

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony weaves themes of war, PTSD, and Pueblo myth into a profound story that resonates as much today as it did when it first hit shelves in 1977. — Amy Brady, CHIRB Editor-in-Chief

Feed by Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico’s Feed is the final installment of a gorgeous, funny, and difficult poetic examination of a Native American living in pop-culture America; an important perspective that needs to be heard. — Sara Webster, writer and reviewer

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot

Heart Berries is a gorgeous and gutting memoir about Mailhot’s activist mother, abusive father, and her own coming to terms with living through trauma. Her unique writing style traces her mental state as she discovers her voice and takes control of her own story. — Amy Brady, CHIRB Editor-in-Chief

About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

6 comments on “22 Books By Indigenous Writers to Read Right Now

  1. Ben Kreilkamp

    Marcie Rendon’s mystery series, Murder on the Red River, and Girl Gone Missing. The heroine/detective is dealing with a background as a native “foster child.”

    Like

  2. George Forester

    None of the books of plays by William Yellow Robe?

    Like

  3. Jim Golden

    “Seven Arrows” – The People of The Shield by the Storm Family

    Like

  4. From The Ashes by Jesse Thistle

    Like

  5. Try Crow Winter by Karen McBride. A compelling story that moves back and forth between contemporary Algonquian experience and the spirit world.

    Like

  6. Hi Amy.

    Another indigenous (native) Canadian author to read is Bud Whiteye (Indian name White Eyes).

    The book is called, A Dark Legacy: A primer on Indian Residential Schools in Canada.

    It is a non-fiction book about his life which includes being taken from his home and put in a residential school.

    Like

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