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

The process of decolonization. We hear this a lot, and if you’ve taken a Native studies class then you’ve likely thought about this in different aspects of society. So what does this look like in literature? I’d like to take a close look at decolonization and talk about the importance of allowing people of color to bear witness on the page, to show readers what it’s like to live through sometimes brutal circumstances, and to highlight the dangers of silencing people of color in a Neo-colonial program to whitewash our experiences.

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Growing up in households where words and phrases in both Kiowa and Cherokee were spoken and mixed with English, it gave me a unique understanding of language. As my family spoke, someone could be both skaw-stee and mon’sape. Skaw-stee is a Cherokee word that means “stuck up,” and mon’sape is a Kiowa word that means “trouble maker.” Mix these words with other phrases and Indigenized English words like gaa which is the Native version of “golly,” and all of a sudden language becomes a playground of agency. Where this Kiowa/Cherokee/Mexican boy had a canvas of words to create a beautiful new symmetry.

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“What do you write?” Have you heard that question before? For literary writers this question is like a grain of dirt on the ass cheek of a wild hog running through the brush in the Ozark Hills. Every time I go to answer the question I know what’s going to follow. It’s going to be another question, with a quizzical expression on the questioner’s face, asking me, “What’s literary fiction?”

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I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to read for my debut novel. Many writers don’t get the opportunity to record for their own audiobooks. Because my novel is polyvocal and comes from the heart of tribally specific communities, Kiowa and Cherokee, I was more than happy when Algonquin Books asked me to read for the male characters in my debut. Moreover, they hired a Native actress to read for the women characters: Rainy Fields.

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It’s been a day. A good day. Busy, but good busy. Got some great news. Well, I guess I got the news a couple weeks back and sat on it until today. Why? Because today was the day the American Booksellers Association made the announcement for this year’s Indies Introduce list. And guess what? My debut novel, CALLING FOR A BLANKET DANCE, made the list! Only 10 adult fiction novels are selected each year, and it looks like 2022 was my year.

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There are some great bookstores in your community. And today is a great day to stop by. It’s independent bookstore day and local businesses need us to shop local to sustain the unique qualities of our specific communities. Local bookstores do great things like support artists, hold readings for children, and give authors a community platform to share their work. If you haven’t attended your local bookstore, please take the time to stop in today. Once we get in the habit of shopping at our local bookstores, we foster a network of creativity, compassion, and spirit.

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It’s gotten crazy out there. These social media giants are getting more and more ridiculous every day. They’re contributing to the polarization of the politics in America as opposed to just running their companies. Their egos are bigger than their platforms. I’m not going to name any names here so I don’t contribute to their idiocy. But we all know the name of the newest buy out and the one who started it all. At one point, I’d say back in the good ol’ days of MySpace, it was an environment where we could create our own content and engage with each other freely. Now algorithms and propaganda have disrupted our freedom. We no longer have an array of personalities with unique qualities. Now it’s one of two choices. Get in your line and stay in your lane. Way too rigid for my tastes. So I’m back!

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When we pick up any literary novel we must commit to being an active reader. We can be entertained by the surface plot and the triangulation between characters, certainly. But the purpose of literary fiction is to dive deeper into the text and search for symbols. Not only the symbols that comprise a larger thematic in a storyline, but, more importantly, the symbols that shape the really real world we walk through every day.

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So I know it’s not cool to say “own voice writer” anymore these days, but we have to give credit to the Native writers writing from inside our own tribal communities. It doesn’t happen as often as you might think. And you know what happens even less? When a debut Native writer from inside his tribally specific and historically targeted community gets a little recognition.

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Let me ask you a simple question: What was a significant event in your life? Moreover, how did it impact you, change you, make you into the person you are? What I like most about this question is how it immediately takes us deep into memory. Suddenly a series of memories flood our minds and we rifle through each to determine which might be the most impactful. Now let me switch it on you. What if I asked each of your relatives about the most significant event in your life?

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