Ray Young Bear

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Ray Young Bear (born 1950 in Marshalltown, Iowa) (Meskwaki) is a poet and novelist. He writes about contemporary Native Americans in English and in Meskwaki. The theme of his poems and other works are American Indians' search for identity. His poems express the painful awareness of identity loss.

Early life and education[edit]

Ray Young Bear was born into a Meskwaki family on the Meskwaki Tribal Settlement in Iowa. It is unique as a place where in 1857 the Meskwaki bought land privately for the tribe, like other citizens, authorized by state legislation.

Young Bear spoke Meskwaki as his first language, taught by his maternal grandmother, No-ko-me-sa; she also encouraged him to learn English. He was not comfortable in this language until late in high school.[1] She was also a key teacher of his culture, its customs, and its myths and belief systems, which he embraces. He has been influenced as a writer, feeling it was "in his blood," by his family's holdings of journals belonging to both his grandfathers.[1]

As a youth, Young Bear attended an Upward Bound program at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Later he met poet Robert Bly, who was very influential. Young Bear also studied at Pomona State College, where he took advantage of the chance to hear readings by visiting poets.[1]

Literary career[edit]

Young Bear first wrote poetry in Meskwaki and began to translate his work into English, publishing his first poem in 1968. His work was first published in 1968.

He writes about the dislocation of contemporary Native Americans who are pulled by two different cultures. He has written some prose fiction, but says that "all his writing is merely experiments with words" (Kratzert 1998). His novels, starting with Black Eagle Child (1992), describe his youth through the character of Edgar Bearchild. They combine first-person narrative, letters, religious imagery, and poetry. He often switches between English and the Meskwaki language to express himself more fully.

Selected works[edit]


  • Grandmother (1975)
  • Winter of the Salamander (1980)
  • The Invisible Musician (1990)
  • The Rock Island Hiking Club (2001)
  • The Aura of the Blue Flower That is a Goddess (2001)


  • Black Eagle Child (1992)
  • Remnants of the First Earth (1996)

See also[edit]


  • Kratzert, M. "Native American Literature: Expanding the Canon", Collection Building Vol. 17, 1, 1998, p. 4