LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature

In LeAnne Howe at the Intersections of Southern and Native American Literature, I attempt to depict the complexity of the Choctaw writer’s work—its intellectualism, its humor, its powerful invocations of Indigenous presence as it moves within, outward from, and back through the South. Though my book is the first monograph on LeAnne Howe, she has been writing for more than thirty years and her writing and her presence have been impacting American Indian literature for that long. It has only been in the last decade or so that her work has been taken up as a part of a southern literary tradition. I teach and research both American Indian literature and southern literature because I have spent most of my life in the South, though my early teaching experiences occurred in Indian Country in New Mexico and Arizona. When I first read Howe’s 2001 novel Shell Shaker, it seemed to me that her work provided the ideal junction to consider how these fields overlap and what tensions exist between them. Clearly, the primary inspiration for my book is LeAnne Howe’s writing; below I have listed all of her single-authored books. She has also contributed to several collections, published individual works, and co-written books, which I hope you will explore further. I have also shared books that either inspired my own understanding of themes that Howe takes up in her writing or books that are complementary to Howe’s approach in some way.

LeAnne Howe, Shell Shaker (Aunt Lute Press, 2001). Howe’s debut novel transitions between the eighteenth-century Choctaw lands that become Mississippi to twentieth-century Oklahoma, detailing the story of the Billy family. The family’s past decisions must be dealt with in the present, particularly in relation to a troublesome tribal leader who betrays his people. Howe’s rollicking tale illuminates the complicated relationships between Native peoples and colonizing Europeans, the strength of Choctaw women, and the importance of Native communities to embrace their ancestors and their history in order to decolonize in the present.

LeAnne Howe, Evidence of Red (Aunt Lute Press, 2005). In this collection of poetry, stories, and drama, Howe displays her lyrical range, taking her reader from the birth of the Choctaw people from their mother mound, Nanih Waiya, to those World War I Choctaw code talkers who began the practice of using Native languages as the unbreakable codes they would become in both world wars. As in Shell Shaker, Choctaw history and cultural beliefs figure prominently, with references to Corn Woman and nineteenth-century Indian Removal, yet we also see the contemporary, cosmopolitan Native experience, with stories about global travel and coalitions of people of color.

LeAnne Howe, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (Aunt Lute Press, 2007). Like Shell Shaker, Miko Kings, moves from the contemporary moment back to the past, in this case, early twentieth-century Indian Territory, after the passage of the General Allotment Act and the impending statehood of Oklahoma. The Miko Kings are an all-Indian baseball team, and their role in the Twin Territories’ Pennant game will impact their community and relations for decades to come.

LeAnne Howe, Choctalking on Other Realities (Aunt Lute Press, 2013). This essay collection is a travelogue of Howe’s globe-trotting experiences including representing American Indians at the 1993 International Forum on Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights in Japan, a speaking gig at a summer seminar in Romania, and various meanderings throughout the United States and the Middle East. Howe’s narratives encourage her readers to laugh at her cultural missteps and empathize with the lessons she learns about herself and our world.

Eric Gary Anderson, Taylor Hagood, and Daniel Cross Turner, Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). This groundbreaking collection of essays focuses on “undeadness” as a paradigm for understanding the South in its various representations. It is also the first collection of essays on southern literature to contain two critical pieces on LeAnne Howe’s work: my own study of Choctaw deathways in her novels and Annette Trefzer’s analysis of the “Indigenous uncanny.”

William Faulkner, Go Down Moses (Random House, 1942). This essential Faulkner collection depicts the relationship between Sam Fathers, a descendent of Chickasaws and African Americans, and his influence on Isaac McCaslin, heir to the McCaslin dynasty. Fathers is likely the figure that Howe’s character Auda Billy, in Shell Shaker, refers to as a “William Faulkner Indian, a mute character of the Southern literati” (16).

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (Penguin Books, 1977). Ceremony is a masterpiece and one of the most influential books written by an American Indian author. Its ceremonial structure and its relationship between form and content certainly influenced Howe’s approach to Shell Shaker, which relies on ceremonial events to enact its plot.

Blake Hausman, Riding the Trail of Tears (University of Nebraska Press, 2011). Hausman’s futuristic novel imagines a theme park in north Georgia, Cherokee country, in which visitors can don virtual reality suits and return to the early nineteenth century to “ride” the Trail of Tears. Though most of the novels about Indian Removal have been serious historical fiction, Hausman’s futurism gives readers the opportunity to imagine the implications of Removal in a contemporary context, in much the same way that LeAnne Howe’s work helps readers to see the legacy of historical events playing out in the present.

Kirstin L. Squint is associate professor of English at High Point University. Her articles have appeared in MELUS, Mississippi Quarterly, Studies in American Humor, and elsewhere.

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