Studies In American Indian Literature Critical Essays And Course Designs

The publication of the inaugural issue of Studies in American Indian Literature thirty years ago coincides with the flourishing of what has been called the "Native American Renaissance," a term coined by Kenneth Lincoln to describe the tremendous output of literary endeavors by Native writers beginning with the publication of N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn in 1969. Since its inception SAIL has staked out a space for lively debate and intellectual exchange on what was then considered to be a new and emerging field of study. Following closely behind were the earliest book-length treatments of Native literary criticism: Charles R. Larson's American Indian Fiction in 1978; Allen Velie's Four American Indian Literary Masters in 1982; Andrew Wiget's Critical Essays on Native American Literature in 1985; Paula Gunn Allen's Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs in 1983 and The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Literature in 1986; and in 1989, Arnold Krupat's Voice in the Margin and Gerald Vizenor's Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literature. These works, and those that followed them, signaled a paradigm shift in the way we think about American Indian literature.

This special section of the thirtieth anniversary issue began as a panel entitled "Assessing Native Criticism" at the 2005 Modern Language Association conference in Washington, DC. Just as SAIL assumed thirty years ago that there was in fact a field called American Indian literature, this panel posits the existence of a vibrant field that must be critiqued and examined as part of its growth process. The [End Page 173] essays that follow seek to explore current critical debates in American Indian literary studies. They assume the existence of Native literary criticisms, actively engaging with and challenging current critical models. The authors map out diverse positions on the critical terrain, in what might be considered a snapshot of the current debates.

Christopher B. Teuton examines the reading practices of the Cherokee Nation in order to explore the nexus of relationships between Native communities and the literature that springs from them. Franci Washburn argues that no single critical approach to Native literature is possible; rather, "there can, should, and must be theories." Drawing from the theories of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Thomas Hove and John M. McKinn advocate a three-point relational model for assessing Native literary and cultural criticism, one that takes into consideration the social dynamics of the field. Finally, Ron Carpenter argues for a transcultural context for teaching American Indian literatures. Collectively these essays encourage future conversations that we hope will serve to broaden our discussions of Native literary criticisms.

Stephanie Fitzgerald

Stephanie Fitzgerald (Cree) holds a joint appointment in English and Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas. Her essay on the textual iconography of Native basketry is forthcoming in Early Native Literacies: A Documentary and Critical Anthology. She recently coedited a special issue on American Indian autobiography for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal.

Paula Gunn Allen, a retired UCLA professor of English and American Indian studies and one of the foremost voices in Native American literature, died May 29 at her home in Fort Bragg, Calif., following a prolonged illness. She was 68.

 

A prolific writer and editor, Allen was widely recognized as a leading scholar of Native American and American literature whose work was influential in advancing the field of Native American studies and promoting and popularizing the works of Native American writers.

 

She was the editor of the seminal 1983 anthology "Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs," which helped lay the foundation for the study of Native American literature, and the author of "The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions," a collection of critical essays published in 1986 that is today regarded as a cornerstone in the study of American Indian culture and gender. Her most recent work, "Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat" (2004), told the story of the beloved Indian woman from a Native American perspective.

 

"This is a profound loss for the American Indian academic and creative community," said Hanay Geiogamah, interim director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. "Professor Gunn Allen was one of the most widely respected and accomplished scholars and writers in the history of American Indian studies in this country."

 

When Allen was awarded the prestigious Hubbell Medal from the Modern Language Association for lifetime achievement in American literary studies in 1999, the citation read: "To say that Paula Gunn Allen is multi-talented and to claim that she has had a major impact on the field of American literature are two statements that vastly over-simplify and understate her stature and importance.

 

"In fact, what can accurately be said of Paula Gunn Allen — that her work as a poet and novelist helped create basic texts in Native American literature and that her work as critic and anthologist has been instrumental in promoting the study and understanding of that literature — cannot be said of many other academics in any field, let alone in American literature."

 

Allen published six volumes of poetry, including "Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962–1995" (1997) and "Skins and Bones" (1988). Her latest book of poetry, "America the Beautiful" is forthcoming from West End Press.

 

Born Paula Marie Francis in 1939, Allen grew up on the Cubero Land Grant in New Mexico, the daughter of Elias Lee Francis, a former lieutenant governor of New Mexico, and Ethel Francis. Both her father's Lebanese background and her mother's Laguna Pueblo–Mtis–Scots heritage shaped her critical and creative vision.

 

Allen received a bachelor's degree in English in 1966 and a master's in creative writing in 1968, both from the University of Oregon. She earned her doctorate in American studies in 1976 from the University of New Mexico. Allen taught at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, the College of San Mateo, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, prior to joining the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where she became a professor of Native American and ethnic studies.

 

She taught at UCLA from 1990 to 1999.

 

Allen was a mentor to various doctoral students now teaching American Indian and women's studies, English, and other disciplines across the country. Thomas Wortham, former chair of the UCLA English department, recalled the impact she had on the university.

 

"When Paula arrived at UCLA she was sublimely misfitted to be a professor in this particular department of English, and it was for this reason I came to value her, first as her colleague, then later as her 'boss,'" he said. "She grounded us (or was it that she sky-ed us), at least those of us who could reach down (or up) in our imaginations."

 

"The learned life for Paula was never something abstract, but always personal, spiritual," Wortham said.

 

Allen received many awards, including postdoctoral fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Research Council, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas and a Lannan Foundation Fellowship.

 

Allen is survived by her children, Lauralee Brown and Suleiman Allen; two granddaughters; two sisters; and one brother. Two sons, Fuad Ali Allen and Eugene John Brown, preceded her in death.

 

Funeral services were held June 2 in Fort Bragg. A memorial service in Northern California is tentatively scheduled for mid-July. Updated information will be posted at www.paulagunnallen.net. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to a scholarship fund they are establishing in Allen's honor: Institute for Indigenous Knowledges, 1536 W. 25th St. #120, San Pedro, CA 90732.

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