Native American Literature, About This Catalog

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About This Catalog

This is our fourth catalog of Native American literature. There has been a flowering of writing by Native American authors in the last quarter century and the contribution to our national literature has been so immense, on so many different fronts, that it is hard to remember two very basic facts about this writing: first, that according to one historian/critic, prior to 1968 there had been only nine novels published that were written by American Indian authors; and second, and perhaps more importantly, Native American literature, by virtue of the fact that it arises out of cultures with strong oral traditions but very little history with the printed or written word, represents a melding of cultural traditions and predilections that is itself an enormous accomplishment, before one even considers the quality of the writing itself. There is a blending of ways-of-knowing that arise out of radically different cultures that allows this literature, at its best, to be transcendent: there are different insights, different perceptions, different links in understanding, that become available to a reader than are available in the literatures of the European traditions. Native American literature, being indigenous to the North American continent and rooted in cultures that existed here for thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans, enriches all of American literature, grounding it in the reality of place and in the mysteries of this particular place, in a way that stands apart from the literatures derived from European homelands, experiences and cultures. As such, even taking into account the flourishing of Native American writing in recent years, it can still be considered an under-recognized field, because the true import of this writing to our own national literature and our own sense of a national identity has scarcely begun to be felt.

Since we issued our first catalog in this field, we have broadened the scope of what we include in these catalogs. As has been the case in the past, nearly all of the writing included herein is by American Indian writers; there are a small handful of books by white writers we've included because of their subject matter or significant treatment of an issue pertaining to Indians, but for the most part we have limited ourselves to listing books by Indian writers. That being said, we have widened the scope of the catalog to cross beyond the boundaries of what is usually considered "literature" or "creative" writing. In cultures that are rooted in oral traditions, the lines dividing tribal history from cultural myth, or family history from legend and folklore, are less clear-cut than they are in a society with not only a written tradition but a penchant for categorizing writing into neatly delineated subjects. And the standard "literature" of the oral tradition the tales told by a "storyteller" tend to be an artifice combining elements of history, legend, personal experience, moral instruction and more. We have no word in the European tradition to categorize this kind of literature, but there can be no doubt that it is creative and that it carries with it the full burden of what we customarily consider to be the moral and spiritual dimensions of Art.

Thus, we have, in this catalog and our most recent previous one, begun to include more "nonfiction" written by Indian authors. Given that so little fiction was written by Native authors prior to 1968, we have opened up an area of writing that previously had been considered a somewhat marginalized area of "Americana" and have looked at it as a part of the literary tradition of Native American writing. In doing so, we have found that this decision makes pragmatic sense: the tribal histories, even the autobiographies, written by Native authors in the 19th century tend to violate one or another of the Western "rules" for those categories of writing, and to incorporate elements of the storyteller's traditions into books that were printed and packaged as straightforward nonfiction narratives. Viewing these books as literature helps place them in a different context, in which the choices made by the author can be seen to make a different kind of sense than if they are viewed as though they had arisen directly out of the European cultural tradition. Seen in this light, many of them look richer and more meaningful.

Assembling a catalog of this sort takes a great deal of time; it's been almost three years since our last one. At the same time, much has changed in the out-of-print book world since our last catalog in this field, most especially the changes brought about by the internet. Whereas in the past we could reasonably catalog moderately uncommon books that a buyer would be unlikely to encounter in, say, a year's worth of browsing in used bookstores and the handful of dealers' catalogs any one individual may be likely to receive, now a book buyer, via the internet, has near-instant access to the inventories of some 15,000 booksellers whose books are listed in one or more of the vast databases on the net. A book that, in the past, one might not have encountered over the course of a year or more may now be available in dozens of copies on the net by virtue of the fact that so many booksellers have put their inventories online in so short a time. The cost of putting books up for sale on the net is small; the cost of printing and mailing catalogs is large. Acknowledging the current bookselling environment in which the internet plays so large a part, we have made efforts to concentrate on books that are scarce enough that they are still, even in this environment, unlikely to turn up readily or to be available in multiple copies online. The catalog, therefore, is not as "complete" as it might have been, but that which it does include tends to be of a higher order of scarcity than was the case in our previous catalogs in this field. Indeed, there are a sizable number of titles in this catalog that we have never handled before, and never seen. As in our previous catalogs, all books are first editions unless indicated otherwise, and are in as close to their original condition as we were able to find e.g., with dust jackets, if so issued, or in their original bindings. Deviations from this standard are explicitly noted.

Catalogs remain a vehicle for browsing or exploring a field in a way that the internet has not yet replicated, and we hope that our efforts in this regard will not only convey useful information about a fascinating and important field, but will also help contribute significant and hard-to-find books to the collections being developed of this literature. We are happy to work with librarians or private collectors, and we will respond to want lists in this field.

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