As someone who’s married to a First Nations poet, I often end up in conversations about writing by Aboriginal authors. One of the subjects that come up is whether or not, as an Aboriginal author, someone should feel obligated to write about Aboriginal issues.
The jury is still out on that debate, but many of the authors on this list do write about Aboriginal issues, and may not ever even think about whether or not they should. If a writer is supposed to write what they know, then how could they not write about Aboriginal issues? On a similar note, many of the women on this list write about their experiences as women, and more specifically, as Aboriginal women.
So, in no particular order, my top ten North American Aboriginal authors are
Highway is a Cree playwright and novelist. His plays are award winning, but it’s his novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998), that I most highly recommend. The novel is based on the story of Highway and his brother René and the title character, the Fur Queen, is a trickster figure who watches over the two brothers in the story.
2. Louise Halfe
Halfe is a Cree poet who has written three books: Bear Bones & Feathers (1994), Blue Marrow (1998) and The Crooked Good (2007). Her poetry transitions from English to Cree and back again, without translation, and although her years in residential school inspire a lot of her work, there is still a strong sense of humour.
In addition to being an amazing artist, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is the author of several books, including Red: A Haida Manga (2009). Yahgulanaas created Haida manga by fusing traditional Haida art and narrative with modern graphic storytelling.
Armstrong’s first novel, Slash (1985), is considered to be the first novel written by a Native Canadian woman. She is the grandniece of Mourning Dove, author of Cogewea the Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1927) and the first Native American woman novelist. Armstrong also helped to establish the En’owkin School of International Writing in Penticton, BC.
Boyden is the author of two award-winning novels, Three Day Road (2005) and Through Black Spruce (2008). From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway is the inaugural Henry Kreisel Lecture he gave at the University of Alberta in 2007 (I was there, it was amazing). During the lecture he talked about post-Katrina New Orleans and the relationship between Native Canadians and the poor people of New Orleans.
6. Lee Maracle
Maracle writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and is an expert in aboriginal literature. She is also a founder of the En’owking School of International Writing and has taught at several universities, both in Canada and in the U.S. Maracle is an activist and a feminist.
Morse writes poetry and fiction, and one of his poetry collections, Discovery Passages (2011), was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. He is writing a lifelong poem called The Untitled.
Robinson is the author of three books: Traplines (1996), Monkey Beach (2000) and Blood Sports (2006). Monkey Beach, Robinson’s first novel, was short-listed for the Giller Prize and a Governor General’s Award, and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in 2001.
9. Thomas King
King is of Cherokee, Greek and German descent. The trickster Coyote is often a character in his work, as in Green Grass, Running Water (1993), which was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. Humour is also an important element in King’s work.
10. Joanne Arnott
Arnott writes poetry, non-fiction and children’s literature. She is an activist, a founding member of the Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast and a mother of six. One of her poetry collections, Wiles of Girlhood (1991), won the Gerald Lampert Award in 1992.
You may have noticed that this list is dominated by Canadians. If you’d like to recommend some American authors you think should be added to the list, please do so. While you’re at it, why not give us your top ten?