Native Peoples of Oklahoma – Literary Futures – 5.1.2 American Indian Literature in Oklahoma

>>Dr. Nelson: Hi, I’m here with Geary Hobson,
Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. Geary, we talked a little bit before
and you were telling us you’ve been around here for a while now. You’ve been here at
OU for 25 years, give or take, and and still going. I wonder if you could talk to us a
little bit about studying American Indian literature here at OU. What what brought you
here and what have you seen happen in terms of the institution?>>Dr. Hobson: Mmhmm. Well I’d been teaching
Indian literature at the University of New Mexico since 1972, and was involved in the
development of the Native American Studies program there. And I was the director of it
for while in the ’70s, and then decided to get busy on my dissertation and finish up
and and…went lived in Arkansas for a little while just to get away from Native American
Studies politics. So we went to Arkansas–>>Dr. Nelson: What, politics? [laughs]>>Dr. Hobson: –and we really liked it there,
those two years we were there. And then in the meantime I went back to UNM to finish
my doctorate and then I I the job opened here and and I had known Alan Veile I’d known him
before and had liked him, respected him. And Barbara my wife was from Oklahoma from the
Lawton area, Comanche, so we wanted to come back here. And we’ve been here since 1988
but I think one of the things that I’m most excited about is something that happened in
1992, and my wife had a big part of this, was the Returning the Gift Festival that we
had. We brought in hundreds of Indian writers for about a five-day thing. My wife was one
of the coordinators of it along with Joseph Bruchac and then I became the what they call
the Project Historian and we developed the Native Writers’ Circle out of that. Trying
to keep writers in touch and offering literary awards and–and until recently I’ve been a
part of that, and I’ve turned that over to youngsters like like Rain Gomez, Lizz Toombs
so let them take it over now. But I I’ve just watched Indian literature grow. For instance
when we were doing the planning for Returning the Gift they said, “Well, we’ll have about
50 writers here and this ought to be pretty.” And I said, “Well, there are a lot more” and
I started just pulling out names and we started getting extra money. One foundation kicked
in a lot of money and we ended up paying for 225 writers to come here, Native writers,
and then we had another 120 or so that showed up, and then another 100 to 150 Indian scholars
and writers, friends of Indian literature that came on their own, so it turned out to
be really big.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, guess it’s safe to say
that that was in many ways a kind of catalyst for bringing American Indian writing a critical
mass or at least an awareness that there was such a critical mass.>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. You
could interview Joe Bruchac, and I think he’d say pretty well the same thing. But it yeah,
it, I think that’s when they talk about the Native American renaissance it began after
Momaday published House Made of Dawn and the writers started coming out of the wall, the
woodwork as the saying goes. And I think that the 1992 is is that’s the second phase of
it and and it really mushroomed after that. Well, like probably the most well-known Indian
writer today is Sherman Alexie. He was there, and he hadn’t published his first book then.
His first book was about to come out, and I think that helped him a lot. And he helped
us, you know. Sherman’s been very good working with us with the Native Writers’ Circle.>>Dr. Nelson: Recently you showed me the the
giant panoramic picture of all the folks who were gathered there together.>>Dr. Hobson: That’s still less than half
of them.>>Dr. Nelson: Is that right?>>Dr. Hobson: In the picture is 166 people
but again as I say there was–>>Dr. Nelson: And it looks like every Indian
writer in the world.>>Dr. Hobson: –about 350 or so there. Yeah.>>Dr. Nelson: It had to have been a fantastic
time to have been here. Well too, one of the articles that I’m hopeful that we’ll be able
to read of yours is one that you published in World Literature Today about the history
of Native writing in Oklahoma.>>Dr. Hobson: Oh yeah, okay.>>Dr. Nelson: I’m going to spring this question
on you. Didn’t give you a chance to prepare for it.>>Dr. Hobson: Well, that was quite a few years
ago about 22 years ago I wrote that.>>Dr. Nelson: It’s been a while back.>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, I’d I’d write it differently
today because, not that I would push anyone out. But just again, adding many more. Just
like like Lizz Toombs now is doing work with some Cherokee writers. Julie Moss, Julie Gibson,
and so these kinds of things would be written about, you know. It’s still an incredibly
healthy thing going on, so the door’s not in any way closed.>>Dr. Nelson: Well, I think you’re right,
and I think that is indeed very heartening. I wonder if you’ve got ideas about why Oklahoma
has been such a a–I’ve used the word before–a kind of “cradle” for American Indian writing?
And and in your article you start looking way, way back. We look at–>>Dr. Hobson: Well, there’s that whole idea
as my dad used to refer to Oklahoma, he said, “Oh well, the Indian dumping ground.” [Dr.
Nelson laughs] That’s, you know, that was the idea, that’s where they were going to
put all the tribes. Remember in the 1820s they said, “Well, west of Mississippi, vaguely
Arkansas, Missouri,” you know, and then they began to make those states, make them as states.
And they said, “Well, little further west, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas,” and so that was
all dumping the Indians there and then it then they finally around the 1840s created
the Indian Territory, as you know. And so ended up, as you know, 67 tribes here. Both
Native tribes as well as the removed tribesn and they were coming in from all directions.
It wasn’t always East-West movement, you know, they were coming out of the Northeast, coming
out of the Northwest, you know, and they even wanted to move the Navajos here I I learned
a few years back. But they said, “No, we’ll send them to Bosque Redondo,” and that didn’t
work though though, you know.>>Dr. Nelson: The long walk.>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, the long walk. But that
that was the American solution. That was, you know, that was old skayna yena’s idea,
you know, Chicken Snake. Should I translate that? Andrew Jackson.>>Dr. Nelson: [both laugh] Maybe not.>>Dr. Hobson: And again that was the solution,
you know, was to put everybody here. So that is kind of the template that people have,
you know, for for as as as you say the “cradle” in a sense.>>Dr. Nelson: But in response then to that
kind of dumping ground, we get this proliferation of literature coming from Indian Oklahoma.>>Dr. Hobson: Mmhmm, yeah, and it’s the idea
people realize that it’s not just one voice, you know, one kind of voice. There’s many
different kinds of– ’cause there’re nations. Cherokee Nation, Creek Nation, you know, Oneida
Nation, so it’s just that’s the beauty of it. And and the writers illustrate that in
their work.>>Dr. Nelson: And to that I think we could
add that we find writers like yourself writing outside of their own tribal experiences. Did
you ever wonder about doing that? Writing as an Ofo being Cherokee-Quapaw yourself?>>Dr. Hobson: Well…no, well for one reason
there weren’t any Ofos around.>>Dr. Nelson: No one to raise an objection.
[both laugh]>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, but I’ve very pleased
about the fact that some Tunica-Biloxi people have read the book and have given me a lot
of good response on it. That may have some Ofo blood you know, and all that. But no,
I think that it was like were talking about in the in the seminar that I’m doing right
now on American Indian poetry. There’s almost like two ways of approaching Indian literature:
the tribal viewpoint, you know, like kind of like what you work with like looking at
Cherokee things through Cherokee eyes, and how that is advanced or not in the literature.>>Dr. Nelson: Yes.>>Dr. Hobson: And then there are other writers
who take the pan-Indian view.>>Dr. Nelson: Yes.>>Dr. Hobson: And that can be just as valuable.
There are others who do both. You know, Wendy Rose would be the pan-Indian view. She rarely
knows or talks about Hopi or Miwok things. She just didn’t grow up knowing it, but she’s
very great you know in talking about the universal Indian condition you know. Or Robert Conley,
you know, very Cherokee view you know, so and by extension sometimes he’ll deal with
pan-Indian things. I try to do both.>>Dr. Nelson: Tell us a little bit about what
you’re working on now.>>Dr. Hobson: That’s kind of confusing. I
think I’ve got seven books going right now?>>Dr. Nelson: Is that all? [laughs]>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, that’s all, yeah. No,
I’m rewriting a novel that I finished the first draft of two or three years ago and
and I’m now rewriting it. But I’ve got a another group of short stories. There’re 12 now in
various stages of completion, trying to finish a book on on Cherokee writing and Cherokee,
Cherokees in American literature that you and I have talked about. Not so much about
Cherokee writing, but about how Cherokees have appeared in American literature. And
a long book of poems, Nunnadaultsunyi, The Road Where The People Cried, you know, The
Trail of Tears. Some of that’s been published. And then another collection of poetry, just
individual poems. And then a big book of essays, which I was telling my class today, I said,
“This is turning out to be so far 118 essays, reviews, and interviews that I’ve done of
the years, and so.” That’s got oh, about 540 pages right now. I keep adding things to it,
and how many is that, about five or six that I’ve mentioned?>>Dr. Nelson: Boy, I’ve lost track, but no
that makes my work my work feel pretty meager. [laughs]>>Dr. Hobson: But no, I work I work on one
for a while and then I get into another one, and so it’s been I’ve been doing that for
about a year. Going from project to project, but working. Every every afternoon and every
night, so.>>Dr. Nelson: This is in addition to the anthology
that you recently brought out, the one that you edited. Could you tell us about that one?>>Dr. Hobson: Yeah, that one that one was
finished a long time ago actually. I I consider it finished around 2005 or 2006 or so we gave
it to OU Press.>>Dr. Nelson: And it’s called?>>Dr. Hobson: It’s The People who Stayed:
Indian writing…Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal. So it’s all these writers that
have ties and half of me gets in there because my mother’s folks, they’re unremoved Quapaws.
But oh, there’s just so many writers that some of them don’t have federal census numbers,
quite a lot of them don’t. But they’re of Indian background from the South, and that’s
been so little covered in not only contemporary Native American literature, but American literature.
American history has kind of we see these people a lot of times around and don’t know
them, you know, Johnny Depp, or Loretta Lynn, you know, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, I knew that.>>Dr. Hobson: They have this Indian background,
but that was stifled from them when they were little, you know. And I know hundreds of people
like that all over the South and particularly Arkansas and Louisiana. But so my two co-editors,
Janet McAdams and Kathryn Walkiewicz, we put together that book. There’s 55 writers in
that.>>Dr. Nelson: In in my classes I have grown
accustomed to hearing from my students that they didn’t know about American Indian literature,
that they didn’t know that it was out there. And I had that same moment myself, in ’92
when Sherman Alexie was down here, I had not yet learned anything about all this. I was
graduating high school and didn’t come across American Indian writing until about ’96. And
it was a kind of watershed moment for me. You know everything kind of changed and and
in fact it was Alexie’s story, This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona that I first
came across. I’m hopeful that this sort of course will introduce people to American Indian
writing.>>Dr. Hobson: Oh, good. Mmhmm.>>Dr. Nelson: And and I wonder if if you’ve
got anything that you would say to maybe aspiring American Indian authors?>>Dr. Hobson: Well…I think that writing
happens right now. You just I carry little cards with me and I’m always jotting something
down, and I put them on the computer or put them on my tablet. You don’t write a book
just in one minute. You’re continually working on something, and just don’t throw anything
away that you write, you know, you find 20 years later you’ll find a use for that paragraph
you wrote that maybe didn’t work in a story earlier, like the examples I use. Think of
writing as something that’s always continuous. You know, it’s not something you do and then
go on to something else. It’s something that you’re involved in.>>Dr. Nelson: And maybe…keep doing it?>>Dr. Hobson: Keep doing it. Yeah, that’s
right.>>Dr. Nelson: Good. All right, very good.
Well, Geary, Wado. Sure do appreciate you coming by.>>Dr. Hobson: Wado. Thank you.>>Dr. Nelson: Thank you.

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