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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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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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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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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Metaphorically #DVpit becomes water.  Likewise, I could say Twitter is some type of container–a canteen maybe–something tethered to your belt.  Whether you’ve been slinging a sledge hammer to break rocks or ripping callouses off your hands for grip on a climb, you’re exhausted and you could use a drink.  What you need is opportunity and energy to keep climbing, to keep breaking those rocks.

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