Oscar Hokeah is a regionalist Native American writer of literary fiction, interested in capturing intertribal and multicultural aspects within two tribally specific communities: Tahlequah and Lawton, Oklahoma. He was raised inside these tribal circles and continues to reside there today–half Native American (Kiowa/Cherokee) and half Hispanic. He earned an M.A. in English from the University of Oklahoma, and a B.F.A. in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award and the Native Writer Award. He has short stories published in South Dakota Review, American Short Fiction, Yellow Medicine Review, Surreal South ’09, and Red Ink Magazine

You have to understand how big of a fanboy I am. When someone asks me for a book recommendation, Power’s story collection, ROOFWALKER, is usually the first I name. It captures perfectly the flux between community/reservation life to an urban Native experience. I have a special love for the book because I taught it in my Native Lit class at the Institute of American Indian Arts. This was back in 2013 when the then Head of Creative Writing, Evelina Zuni Lucero, asked me to adjunct for a semester. When I compiled my list of Native fiction to teach, Mona Susan Power’s book was at the top.

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“Did you hear about Kaleb Nowater? Maybe his name was Kevin. I’m not sure, but it was a K name for certain. Come to find out, he was sexually assaulted by a worker at that children’s group home. By whom? It was ol’ what’s his face. I forget, but he likes to surround himself with those wannabe artists. Anyway, they fired him because they caught him sleeping during overnight shifts in that poor boy’s room. Awful. And imagine all those artists who just look the other way. I wonder if they know. More so, I wonder if they care more about their reputation than a child getting harmed. Just makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it. Who makes sexual advances on a teenage boy with emotional and psychological issues?”

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You have to respect an artist for taking bold steps. That’s what we do. We’re here to capture the harsh realities and interpret those realities for purposes of entertainment, as well as processing tools for deep intellectual thinking. When I cross artists who are willing to truly reach deep inside themselves to find an honest portrayal of the world, I immediately recognize game. These are the real ones. The ones envied by the weak, the unwilling, the carcasses of outdated memories.

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I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I think it was back in May 2021 when my editor, Kathy Pories, introduced me to the Creative Director of Algonquin Books, Christopher Moisan. We began discussions about who to approach for the cover art. Christopher found an amazing artist in El Paso, Texas and sent us some examples of her work. Both Kathy and I were floored. We passed the images along to my agent, Allie Levick, of Writers House, and she too instantly became enamored by her work. It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to: Christin Apodaca.

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There I am emailing back and forth with my editor, Kathy Pories, of Algonquin Books about the cover to my debut novel, CALLING FOR A BLANKET DANCE. She let’s me know that the Creative Director of Algonquin Books, Christopher Moisan, has found an artist in southwest Texas who does amazing work. He’s especially interested in the specific style of art she employs. I quickly click on the attachment they provided. I’m instantly taken by how her work captivates the mind. It’s almost like a trap. A beautiful and alluring trap that you never want to leave.

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First off, none of us live in the village of the happy people. Secondly, if there was such a story, no one would read nor watch it. Because it’d be a bunch of BS. One of the many pleasures of engaging with art, whether it be film, literature, or the various branches of studio arts, is the freedom we have to think critically about what we consume. When I heard about the series, Reservation Dogs, coming from FX and Hulu, I was excited to watch. I’m always pleased to see Native faces and Native communities in popular culture–especially when it showcases our resilience. We’re a beautiful people with unique experiences to share.

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Here I am: a nothing little Native sitting in small town Oklahoma. Yet somehow I’ve managed to land an amazing literary agent, Allie Levick of Writers House. Then shortly after we announce to the world that my debut novel, CALLING FOR A BLANKET DANCE, will be released on July 26, 2022, I receive an email from Allie saying there is a group out of Hollywood interested in representing my novel for TV and film. Not bad for a kid who grew up in the depths of poverty. I was aligned for prison or an early grave; at best, a life of hard labor.

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So I was sitting in a classroom at the University of Oklahoma. This was about a decade ago. I was in my master’s program and it was a special topics course on heteronormativity in American culture. We were discussing James Baldwin’s work, and the professor said, “I love Baldwin’s writing and I don’t know how he does it.” Then he looked at me. We locked eyes for a moment. I’m the only one in this MA program who has a BFA in Creative Writing. I immediately thought, I know how he does it. But before I had a chance to respond, he quickly stated, “And I don’t want to know,” as if he knew I was about to break the spell.

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It was Saturday night when I knew I’d smudge myself and my house with sage the next day. There had been a build up. With the media exposure of police shootings and the new energy for social justice as a response, I was caught up in the energy. But not without personal justification. Under Trump’s toxic atmosphere, my beloved Cherokee community quickly became as divisive as the rest of America.

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I get mentally stuck sometimes, and frustrated, when I think of the disparity rates in the communities I serve. I’m Cherokee and Kiowa. I live in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and work for Indian Child Welfare. I’ve worked my entire career serving Native communities, working diligently to correct the disparity rates, and every time I see a Native person walking down the street strung out on meth, fidgeting and impulsively picking at their skin (the telltale signs of meth addiction), it breaks my heart. I get frustrated at the disparity rates among Native Americans and see first hand the negative impacts caused by historical trauma.

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