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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
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Session 2 Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove - Authors and Literary Works

Author: Keith Gilyard
Work: Poemographies
Author: Mourning Dove
Work: Coyote Stories

 

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Mourning Dove

Photo courtesy of Jay Miller
Mourning Dove is the literary name of Christine Quintasket, an Okanogan from the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington state. Born between 1882 and 1888, she is considered one of the first female Native American novelists for her work Cogewea, the Half-Blood (1927). An activist for Indian rights, Mourning Dove wrote that she was grateful to have been born and come of age during the early years of official U.S. Indian Policy; she spent her life writing and working to represent Indian culture to a dominant white world. Scholar Janet Finn writes that Mourning Dove "wrote against the dominant grain of Indian image making" and that her work "challenged the capacity of personal ethnographic accounts to 'capture' Native American experience; they countered popular stereotypes of Indian people; and they posed an alternative form for elucidating cultural knowledge."

Mourning Dove was born in a canoe crossing the Kootenai River in Idaho. She was the daughter of Lucy Stukin, a Colville tribal member, and Joseph Quintasket, an Okanogan. The two tribes were closely related and both spoke the Salish language. Her grandfather was Seewhelhken, who had been the head chief of the Colville tribe for many years. Her mother died when Mourning Dove was 14, and she helped raise her younger siblings. Mourning Dove's formal education was limited to a few years at a mission boarding school, a few years in Indian schools, and a stint at a secretarial school. She learned to read from a young Irish orphan named Jimmy Ryan, whom her family adopted, and who taught her using "yellowback," or pulp, novels.

Beset by chronic illness and poverty her entire life, she worked as a housekeeper and fruit picker to support herself and eventually buy a typewriter. In 1912, she began her first novel.

In 1915 Mourning Dove met a white businessman, Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, who was an activist working to preserve Indian culture. He became her literary mentor, editing her works -- and thoroughly changing them, by some accounts -- and using his influence to get her first novel published. According to scholar Kathryn W. Shanley, McWhorter "decided to 'help her' with her novel, and what he did to it was turn it into something she didn't recognize … a kind of pulp fiction that had to do with the issues of half-blood/full-blood, and a romance."

McWhorter also encouraged her to interview her tribal elders and record their stories for the work that eventually became Coyote Stories (1933), a book Shanley says is "particularly important in her work in the sense that it's the most genuinely hers." Though she and her husband at the time earned their living as migrant workers, Mourning Dove managed to continue writing in the various tents or temporary houses where they were living.

As her writings made her well known, Mourning Dove became more active in Native American affairs. She also became increasingly ill. She died in 1936, at the age of 48, from what her death certificate lists as "exhaustion from manic depressive psychosis." In 1990, 54 years after her death, the University of Washington Press published her autobiography, Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography. A personal memoir as well as a rich documentation of the Salish people and culture, the manuscript was found in the attic of a friend and collaborator.

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