Beth E. Brant, Degonwadonti, or Kaieneke'hak was a Mohawk writer, essayist, and poet of the Bay of Quinte Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Reserve in Ontario, Canada. She is, also, a lecturer, editor, and speaker. She wrote based on her deep connection to her indigenous people and touched on the infliction of racism and colonization. She brought her writing to life from her personal experiences of being a lesbian, having an abusive spouse, and her mixed blood heritage from having a Mohawk father and a Scottish-Irish mother. She has three books of essays and short stories and three edited anthologies published.
She was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 6, 1941. Brant grew up off the reservation, however she maintained a deep link to her Tyndinaga Mohawk heritage with her paternal grandparents where she learned the culture, language, and traditional stories. She was the descendant of tribal leaders Molly Brant and Chief Joseph Brant from the Tyndinaga Mohawk tribe. Her paternal grandparents moved to the Detroit area with the hope their nine children would have more opportunities away from the reservation. Her parents, Joseph and Hazel Brant and her brother and sister, grew up in her paternal grandparent's Detroit home. Her father worked in an automobile factory, and later as a teacher.
She became pregnant at seventeen and married the baby's father. She had three children named Kim, Jill, and Jennifer. After leaving her fourteen-year abusive marriage in 1973, Brant became active in the feminist community and then announced her sexual orientation as a lesbian. She met her partner, Denise Dorsz, in 1976 and have been together since Brant's death in August 2015. They equally divided their time between living in Michigan and Ontario.
In the initial years following her divorce, Brant work any unskilled job she could to support her three children, including a salesclerk, waitress, and cleaning woman. Her writing came later in her life at the age of forty when she had a monumental experience on a trip through the Mohawk reservation with Dorsz. An eagle flew in front of their car window while she was driving. The eagle landed on a nearby tree and Brant stopped the car to bear witness at the creature. They looked at one another and the nonverbal communication spoke to Brant. The eagle told her to start writing and thus her writing career began. She displayed writing ranges of humorous to aggressive and intense to spiritual writing.
Beth Brant was born to write and almost immediately was recognized for her talents. She was published the first year she began officially writing. She was recognized by 1983 editors Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff from the lesbian periodical Sinister Wisdom and asked Brant to edit a collection of Native American woman's writing. This developed into A Gathering of Spirit (1988) where it, at first, was published in 1984 in Sinister Wisdom and then was reissued as a book many times. It was the first anthology of Native American's women writing edited by another Native American woman.
Her success continued with publication of Mohawk Trail in 1985. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and creative nonfiction. Then, continued the momentum in 1991 with Food and Spirits. Her fiction embraces the themes of racism, colonialism, abuse, love, community, and what it means to be Native. Writing as Witness: Essays and Talk, Brant's volume of essays was published in 1994. They covered a range of subjects regarding to the writer's craft and its meaning. In 2003, Brant continued with her second collection of essays called Testimony from the Faithful.
Brant embraced her connection with her Native Mohawk people, while working on Testimony from the Faithful, and pursued her oral history as well. She edited a series of autobiographical stories told by the elders of the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory. This was called I'll Sing 'Till the Day I Die: Conversations with Tyendinaga Elders and was published in 1995. The project preserved the knowledge and wisdom through their stories. This made a scholarly contribution to the continued growing of Aboriginal oral history. A year after, Brant and Sandra Laronde published a co-edited issue of the annual journal Native Women in the Arts, called Sweetgrass Grows All Around Her. Brant's writing continued to be published in anthologies and periodicals, particularly focused on Native, feminist, and lesbian perspectives.
Brant played a pivotal role as one of the first Native lesbian writer in North America. Her work represents both identities of both her Native and lesbian sides. She, also, puts value on being a mother and grandmother. She had few role models when she began her writing career and has encouraged Native Americans women writers who succeeded her. Teaching and mentoring was significant role in Brant's life. Her work took her to university classes where classes provide conversation on topics such as colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the survival of Aboriginal peoples. She lectured at the University of British Columbia in 1989 and 1990 and has guest lectured for classes in women's studies and Native American studies at the New College of the University of Toronto. Also, has lectured and read at universities and culture centers across North America.
Brant has contributed to number of creative writing workshops, including the Women of Color Writing Workshop held in Vancouver in 1991, the 1991 Michigan Festival of Writers in East Lansing, the International Feminist Book Fair held in Amsterdam in 1992, and the Flight of the Mind Writing Workshop in Eugene, Oregon in 1992. In addition, she formed creative writing workshops or groups for Native American women, women in prison, and high school students. She has always looked for ways to help others express themselves, Brant participated in a project called Returning the Gift. This was designed to create new opportunities for Native writers to share their work. It included a 1992 meeting of 250 writers in Norman, Oklahoma, including various outreach programs and the formation of an organization called the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.
Brant continued her efforts on other projects as well. In 1982, she confounded Turtle Grandmother, a clearinghouse for manuscripts by Native American women and a source of information about Native women. It lasted until 1987. She, also, was an AIDS activist, working with People with AIDS (PWA) and giving AIDS education workshops throughout Native communities.
- Creative Writing Award from the Michigan Council for the Arts (1984 and 1986)
- National Endowment for the Arts (1991)
- Canada Council Award in Creative Writing (1992)
- Affirmations Community Heritage Awards (1995)
- National Writers Union (United States and Canada)
- Native Circle of Writers of the Association
- North American Indian Association
- Lesbians and Gays of the First Nations
- Turtle Clan
- Mohawk Trail. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1985.
- Food & Spirits. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1991.
- Testimony from the Faithful. 2003.
- A Gathering of Spirit: A Collection by North American Women. Editor. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1988.
- I'll Sing `til the Day I Die: Conversations with Tyendinaga Elders. Toronto: McGilligan Books, 1995.
- Writing as Witness: Essay and Talk. Toronto: Women's Press, 1994.
- "Grandmothers of a New World." Women of Power 16 (Spring 1990): 40-47.
- "Giveaway: Native Lesbian Writers." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18 (Summer 1993): 944-947.
- "The Good Red Road." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 21.1 (1997): 193-206.
Anthologies Where Poetry Appears
- Barrington, Judith, ed. An Intimate Wilderness: Lesbian Writers on Sexuality. Portland, OR: Eighth Mountain Press, 1991.
- Bruchac, Joseph, ed. New Voices from the Longhouse: An Anthology of Contemporary Iroquois Writing. Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review Press, 1989.
- Bruchac, Joseph, ed. Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American Inidan Poetry. Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review Press, 1983.
- Dykewords: An Anthology of Lesbian Writing. Ed. Lesbian Writing and Publishing Collective. Toronto: Women's Press, 1990.
- Piercy, Marge, ed. Early Ripening: Poetry by Women. New York, Pandora Books, 1987.
- Roscoe, Will, ed. Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
- Cullum, Linda, ed. (2004). "Beth Brant (aka Degonwadonti): (1941- ) American Indian (Bay of Quinte Mohawk)". Contemporary American Ethnic Poets: Lives, Works, Sources. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 42–45. ISBN 0-313-32484-0.
- Brownlie, Robin Jarvis (2004). "Brant, Beth E". In Stein, Marc. Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History in America. Detroit, MI: Charles Scribner’s Sons. pp. 165–166. ISBN 0-684-31261-1.
- Douglas, Carol Anne (1992). "Beth Brant: Book & Spirits". Off Our Backs. 22 (9).
- “Beth Brant (aka Degonwadonti)” Contemporary American Ethnic Poets. Ed. Linda Cullum. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. 42-5. Print.
- Brownlie, Robin Jarvis. “Brant, Beth E.” Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America. Ed. Marc Stein. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004. 165-6. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 May 2016.
- Douglas, Carol Anne. “Beth Brant: Book & Spirits.” Off Our Backs 22.9 (1992): 1. ProQuest. Web. 20 May 2016.
- Bruchac, Carol, Linda Hogan, and Judith McDaniel. The Stories We Hold Secret: Tales of Women's Spiritual Development. Greenfield Review Press, 1986.
- Cullum, Linda. "Survival's Song: Beth Brant and the Power of the Word." MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 24.3 (Fall 1999): 129-140.
- Feminist Writers. Toronto: St. James Press, 1996.
- Petrone, Penny. Native Literature in Canada: From the Oral Tradition to the Present. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.
- Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion. Ed. Janet Witalec and Sharon Malinowski. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1995.