Paula Gunn Allen

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Paula Gunn Allen
Paula Gunn Allen.jpg
Paula Gunn Allen (2007)
Born Paula Marie Francis
October 24, 1939
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Died May 29, 2008(2008-05-29) (aged 68)
Occupation Poet, novelist
Nationality Laguna Pueblo
Alma mater University of Oregon, University of New Mexico
Literary movement Native American Renaissance

Paula Gunn Allen (October 24, 1939 – May 29, 2008) was a Native American poet, literary critic, lesbian activist,[1] and novelist. Of mixed-race European-American and Native American descent, she identified with the Laguna Pueblo of her childhood years, the culture in which she'd grown up. She drew from its oral traditions for her fiction and 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,[2] 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.

Early life and education[edit]

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.[3]

Allen received a BA and MFA from the University of Oregon. She earned a PhD at the University of New Mexico, where she worked as a professor and began research on tribal religions. Allen also worked as a professor at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley before joining the UCLA Indian Center in the late 1980s.[4]

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 throug 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. [5]

Allen's arguments and research were criticized by more mainstream scholars, as well as by American Indian Movement (AIM) member and scholar Gerald Vizenor, who accused her of "a simple reversal of essentialism". [6] AIM has itself been criticized by feminists as being sexist. [7] 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. [8] [9] [10] 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.[11]

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.[4]


Allen was awarded an American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation, 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.


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


  • 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, Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color, Routledge, p. 73, ISBN 1-56023-048-7 
  2. ^ Karvar, Quannah (January 25, 1987). "The Sacred Hoop: RECOVERING THE FEMININE IN AMERICAN INDIAN TRADITION by Paula Gunn Allen". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. ^ Wiget, Andrew (1985), Native American Literature, G. K. Hall & Company.
  4. ^ a b Velie, Alan R. and A. Robert Lee (2013), The Native American Renaissance: Literary Imagination and Achievement, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.
  5. ^ Allen, Paula Gunn (1992). The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-4617-3. 
  6. ^ "Queers in History: Paula Gunn Allen, (1934 – 2008) US Poet / Literary Critic / Lesbian activist / Author". Queers in History. Retrieved 16 October 2015.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  7. ^ Smith, Andrea (April 1, 2005). "Native American Feminism, Sovereignty, and Social Change". Feminist Studies 31 (1): 116–132. doi:10.2307/20459010. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Smith, Andrea. "Indigenous feminism without apology". Unsettling America Decolonization in Theory & Practice. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  9. ^ Green, Joyce (2008). Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. New York: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-940-8. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Bloom, Harold (1998), Native-American Writers, Chelsea House Publishers.

Further reading[edit]

Archival Resources[edit]

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