Paula Gunn Allen

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Paula Gunn Allen
Paula Gunn Allen (2007)
Paula Gunn Allen (2007)
BornPaula Marie Francis
October 24, 1939
Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States
DiedMay 29, 2008(2008-05-29) (aged 68)
Fort Bragg, California
OccupationPoet, novelist
NationalityLaguna Pueblo
Alma materUniversity of Oregon, University of New Mexico
Literary movementNative American Renaissance

Paula Gunn Allen (October 24, 1939 – May 29, 2008) was a Native American poet, literary critic, activist,[1] professor, and novelist. Of mixed-race European-American, Native American, and Arab-American descent, she identified with her mother's people, the Laguna Pueblo[2] and childhood years. She drew from its oral traditions for her fiction poetry and also wrote numerous essays on its themes. She edited four collections of Native American traditional stories and contemporary works and wrote two biographies of Native American women.

In addition to her literary work, in 1986 she published a major study on the role of women in American Indian traditions,[3] arguing that Europeans had de-emphasized the role of women in their accounts of native life because of their own patriarchal societies. It stimulated other scholarly work by feminist and Native American writers.


Born Paula Marie Francis in Albuquerque, New Mexico Allen grew up in Cubero, New Mexico, a Spanish-Mexican land grant village bordering the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Of mixed Laguna, Sioux, Scottish, and Lebanese-American descent, Allen always identified most closely with the Laguna, among whom she spent her childhood and upbringing.[4]

Her Lebanese-American father, Elias Lee Francis, owned a local store, the Cubero Trading Company, and later served as the lieutenant governor of New Mexico from 1967 to 1970.[5] Her brother, Lee Francis, was a Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe poet, storyteller, and educator.

Allen first went to a mission school and graduated in 1957 from a boarding school called the "Sisters of Charity" located in Albuquerque.[6]

Allen received a BA and MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon.[5] She earned a PhD at the University of New Mexico, where she worked as a professor and began research on tribal religions. As a student at the University of New Mexico, she reached out to a poetry professor, Robert Creeley, for poetic advice. He directed her to the work of Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov, who all had strong influences on her work. Later, while a student at University of Oregon she had Ralph Salisbury as a poetry professor, who is of a Cherokee tribe and also had a heavy influence on Paula Gunn Allen.[7][8]

Professor Allen taught at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, the College of San Mateo, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles. She taught at UCLA from 1990 to 1999 as a professor of the English department and the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.[9]

Anthropological writings[edit]

Based on her own experiences and her study of Native American cultures, Paula Gunn Allen wrote The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986). This groundbreaking work argued that the dominant cultural view of Native American societies was biased and that European explorers and colonizers understood Native Peoples through the patriarchal lens. Gunn described the central role women played in many Native American cultures, including roles in political leadership, which were either downplayed or missed entirely by explorers and scholars from male-dominated European cultures. Allen argued that most Native Americans at the time of European contact were matrifocal and egalitarian with only a small percentage reflecting the European patriarchal pattern.[10]

Allen's arguments and research were criticized by more mainstream scholars, as well as by author and critic Gerald Vizenor, who accused her of "a simple reversal of essentialism".[citation needed] The American Indian Movement ("AIM") has itself been criticized by feminists as being sexist.[11] In spite of this, Allen's book and subsequent work has proved highly influential, encouraging other feminist studies of Native American cultures and literature, including an emergence of Indigenous feminism.[12][13][14] It remains a classic text of Native American Studies and Women's Studies programs.

Literary career[edit]

Allen is well known as a novelist, poet and short story writer. Her work drew heavily on the Pueblo tales of Grandmother Spider and the Corn Maiden. It is noted for its strong political connotations. Critics have noted that Leslie Marmon Silko, also of Laguna descent, also draws on these traditional tales.

Her novel, The Woman Who Owned The Shadows (1983), features the woman Ephanie Atencio, the mixed-blood daughter of a mixed-blood mother who struggles with social exclusion and the obliteration of self.[15]

As a poet, Allen published a collection of more than 30 years of work: Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962-1995, judged to be her most successful. Allen's work is often categorized as belonging to the Native American Renaissance, but the author rejects the label.[8]


Allen was awarded an American Book Award in 1990 by the Before Columbus Foundation, for editing short stories by American Indian writers, the Hubbell Medal,[16] the Native American Prize for Literature, the Susan Koppelman Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas in 2001. In 1999, the Modern Language Association awarded her the J. Hubbell Medal for American Literature.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Allen's father, E. Lee Francis, was Lebanese American and her mother, was Scotch-Laguna Pueblo. One of Allen's sisters, Carol Lee Sanchez, was a Laguna writer. She was also related to Leslie Marmon Silko.[18] Allen was in two different marriages and divorced both times.[16] Two of Allen's children preceded her in death, Fuad Ali Allen, and Eugene John Brown. Son Fuad Ali Allen died in 1972 and her other son Eugene John Brown died in 2001. She was survived by two children, Lauralee Brown and Suleiman Allen.[19][16]


  • The Woman Who Owned The Shadows (1983), novel


  • America the Beautiful: The Final Poems of Paula Gunn Allen (2010)
  • Life is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962-1995 (1997)
  • Skins and Bones: Poems 1979-1987 (1988)
  • Shadow Country (1982)
  • A Cannon Between My Knees (1981)
  • Star Child: Poems (1981)
  • Coyote's Daylight Trip (1978)
  • Blind Lion Poems (The Blind Lion) (1974)


  • Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting Border-Crossing Loose Canons (1998)
  • Womanwork: Bridges: Literature across Cultures McGraw–Hill (1994)
  • Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Women's Sourcebook (1991)
  • The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986)
  • Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs (1983)


  • Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat (2004)
  • As Long As the Rivers Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans (1996)

Edited collections and anthologies[edit]

  • Hozho: Walking in Beauty: Short Stories by American Indian Writers (2001)
  • Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1974-1994 (1996)
  • Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1900-1970 (1994)
  • Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women (1989)

Anthology contributions[edit]

  • The Serpent's Tongue: Prose, Poetry, and Art of the New Mexican Pueblos, ed. Nancy Wood. (1997)
  • Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology, ed. Will Roscoe. (1988)


  1. ^ Keating, AnnLouise (1993), "Myth Smashers, Myth Makers", in Nelson, Emmanuel Sampath (ed.), Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color, Routledge, p. 73, ISBN 1-56023-048-7
  2. ^ Harjo, Joy. "Her Pueblo Round Place-A Remembrance of Paula Gunn Allen". WMC News and Features. Women's Media Center. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  3. ^ Karvar, Quannah (January 25, 1987). "The Sacred Hoop: RECOVERING THE FEMININE IN AMERICAN INDIAN TRADITION by Paula Gunn Allen". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ Wiget, Andrew (1985), Native American Literature, G. K. Hall & Company.
  5. ^ a b Pollack, Sandra (1993). Contemporary lesbian writers of the United States : a bio-bibliographical critical sourcebook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. pp. 5–12. ISBN 0-313-28215-3.
  6. ^ Van Dyke, Annette (2008). "A Tribute to Paula Gunn Allen (1939-2008)". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 20 (4): 68–75. doi:10.1353/ail.0.0048. JSTOR 20737444. S2CID 201772367.
  7. ^ "Paula Gunn Allen." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 26 April 2016. <>
  8. ^ a b Velie, Alan R. and A. Robert Lee (2013), The Native American Renaissance: Literary Imagination and Achievement, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.
  9. ^ Marquez, Letisia. "Obituary: Paula Gunn Allen, 68, noted English, American Indian studies scholar" UCLA Newsroom, June 03, 2008 Archived 2019-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Allen, Paula Gunn (1992). The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-4617-3.
  11. ^ Smith, Andrea (April 1, 2005). "Native American Feminism, Sovereignty, and Social Change". Feminist Studies. 31 (1): 116–132. doi:10.2307/20459010. JSTOR 20459010.
  12. ^ Smith, Andrea (8 September 2011). "Indigenous feminism without apology". Unsettling America Decolonization in Theory & Practice. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  13. ^ Green, Joyce (2008). Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. New York: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-940-8.
  14. ^ Suzack, Cheryl; Huhndorf, Shari; Perreault, Jeanne; Barman, Jean (2011). Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-1808-7.
  15. ^ Bloom, Harold (1998), Native-American Writers, Chelsea House Publishers.
  16. ^ a b c "Archives - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. 7 June 2008.
  17. ^ "Hubbell Medal 1999 - Paula Gunn Allen". American Literature Section. Modern Language Association. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  18. ^ McDaniel, Cynthia (1999). "Paula Gunn Allen: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 11 (2): 29–49. JSTOR 20736907.
  19. ^ Marquez, Letisia. "Obituary: Paula Gunn Allen, 68, noted English, American Indian studies scholar". UCLA Newsroom. UCLA. Archived from the original on 28 January 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2015.

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