Native American Renaissance
The Native American Renaissance is a term originally coined by critic Kenneth Lincoln in the 1983 book Native American Renaissance.
In The Native American Renaissance, Lincoln explores the significant increase in production of literary works by Native Americans in the years following the publication of N. Scott Momaday's novel House Made of Dawn, which garnered critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969.
Prior to the publication of House Made of Dawn, few Native Americans authors had published works of fiction that reached wide readership. Writers such as William Apess, John Rollin Ridge and Simon Pokagon published works to little fanfare in the nineteenth century. Prior to the onset of WWII, Mourning Dove, John Milton Oskison, John Joseph Mathews, Zitkala-Sa, Charles Eastman and D'Arcy McNickle published literary works, although these works were relatively few in number.
In the work Native American Literatures: An Introduction, author Suzanne Lundquist suggests the Native American Renaissance has three elements:
- Reclamation of heritage through literary expression;
- Discovery and reevaluation of early texts by Native American authors; and
- Renewed interest in customary tribal artistic expression (i.e. mythology, ceremonialism, ritual, and the oral tradition of narrative transmission).
Lincoln points out that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a generation of Native Americans were coming of age who were the first of their respective tribal communities to receive a substantial English-language education, particularly outside Indian boarding schools, and with more graduating from colleges and universities. Conditions for Native people, while still very harsh during this period, had moved beyond the survival conditions of the early half of the century.
A period of historical revisionism was underway, as historians were more willing to look at difficulties in the history of the invasion and colonization of the North American continent. As they explored the Wild West) era, some were more careful to represent events from the Native American perspective. This work inspired public interest in Native cultures and within Native American communities themselves; it was also a period of activism within Native American communities to achieve greater sovereignty and civil rights.
The ferment also inspired a group of young Native American writers, who emerged in the fields of poetry and novel-writing. In the span of a few years, these writers worked to expand the Native American literary canon.
By the 1980s, the rapid increase in materials and the development of Native American Studies departments and programs at several universities, such as the University of California, Los Angeles; Dartmouth College, and Eastern Washington University, led to the founding of scholarly journals, such as SAIL (Studies in American Indian Literature) and Wíčazo Ša Review (1985). With the heightened interest in Native American writing, publishers established specialized imprints, such as Harper and Row's Native American Publishing Programme, which had the goal of promoting new voices and publication opportunities.
The First Wave
Writers typically included in the first wave of the Native American Renaissance include:
- N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (1968)
- Duane Niatum, Ascending Red Cedar Moon (1974)
- Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)
- Gerald Vizenor, Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart (1978)
- James Welch, Winter in the Blood (1974)
The Second Wave
Writers commonly associated with the second wave of the Native American Renaissance are:
- Joy Harjo, The Last Song (1975)
- Barney Bush, Petroglyphs (1981)
- Simon J. Ortiz, From Sand Creek: Rising In This Heart Which Is Our America (1981)
- Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1984)
- Paula Gunn Allen, The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1984)
- nila northSun, A snake in her mouth: poems 1974-96' (1997)
The term Native American Renaissance has been criticized on a number of points. As James Ruppert writes, "Scholars hesitate to use the phrase because it might imply that Native writers were not producing significant work before that time, or that these writers sprang up without longstanding community and tribal roots. Indeed, if this was a rebirth, what was the original birth?" Other critics have described it as "a source of controversy," or have commented on its "vexing implications" of a comparative downgrading of the artistry of oral tradition.
- Rundquist, Suzanne Evertsen. Native American Literatures: An Introduction. Consortium International Publishing Group: New York, NY. 2004, p. 38
- James Ruppert, "Fiction: 1968–Present". In The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature, ed. Kenneth M. Roemer and Joy Porter (CUP, 2005). Page 173 
- Craig Womack, "Book-Length Native Literary Criticism", in Reasoning Together by Janice Acoose, Lisa Brooks, Craig S. Womack, Tol Foster, Daniel Heath Justice, Christopher B Teuton (Oklahoma, 2008), page 15 
- A. Robert Lee, "Introduction." Loosening the Seams: Interpretations of Gerald Vizenor (Popular Press, 2000), p.2 
- Lincoln, Kenneth (1985). Native American Renaissance. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-05457-8. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
- Lundquist, Suzanne Evertsen. Native American Literatures: An Introduction. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York, NY. 2004, P. 38.
- The Native American Renaissance: Literary Imagination and Achievement, eds. Alan R. Velie and A. Robert Lee (Norman: Oklahoma UP, 2014).