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the expanding canon teaching multicultural literature
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Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin Inquiry: Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón Cultural Studies: N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Abiodun Oyewole Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada
Theory Overview Teaching Strategies Authors and Literary Works Resources
Session 1 Cultural Studies: Pat Mora and James Welch - Authors and Literary Works

Author: Pat Mora
Work: My Own True Name
Author: James Welch
Works: The Death of Jim Loney and "Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat"

 

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James Welch

Photo courtesy of The Missoulian
Born in 1940 in Browning, Montana, James Welch is descended from the Blackfeet tribe on his father's side and the Gros Ventre tribe on his mother's. Raised on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Indian reservations, Welch writes about Native Americans in American society. As critic Don Lee has commented, Welch "has made it his lifework as a writer to illuminate the richness of his culture and the heartache of its dislocation."

Welch attended the creative writing program at the University of Montana. Though his early attempts at poetry were, he says, "filled with majestic mountains and wheeling gulls" -- the things he thought poetry was supposed to be about -- his first poetry teacher, Richard Hugo, convinced Welch to write about the world he knew instead. In 1971 he published his first collection of poems, Riding the Earthboy 40, about life on the reservation and on the plains of Montana. Though he is best known as a novelist, the lessons of poetry, such as the need for an economy of words, have always influenced his fiction.

Credited along with N. Scott Momaday as one of the earliest writers in the Native American literary renaissance of the late 1960s, Welch created realistic novels that portrayed life on and off the Blackfeet reservation. The sense of isolation and alienation from white society, the vast open spaces of Montana, and the attempt to find meaning in the past recur as themes again and again in his writing. Yet there is a strong undercurrent of wry humor and an appreciation of the absurd that inform all of his works as well. His first novel, Winter in the Blood, received much critical attention. In it, and in his next novel, The Death of Jim Loney, Welch writes about contemporary Native Americans who are caught between the white world and Native American society, and feel a part of neither. Reynolds Price has written that these two novels "provide steady and penetrating looks at young Indian men whose spiritual blight and psychic paralysis are not confined to reservation life but are universal in their nature and causes." Welch's most recent works, The Heartsong of Charging Elk and Killing Custer, draw on nineteenth-century, Native American history from a tribal perspective.

"I used to object to being called an Indian writer, and would always say I was a writer who happened to be an Indian, and who happened to write about Indians," Welch says about the pressure he feels to be a spokesman. Yet he also knows that "most people in America have a clichéd idea of Indians, that they're all alcoholics and lazy and on welfare. Maybe through literature people can gain an understanding of how Native Americans got the way they are today, and how they differ from one another, as tribes and as individuals."

Works by the Author

top NextWork: The Death of Jim Loney


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