Native Peoples of Oklahoma – Literary Traditions- 5.0.2 American Indian Renaissance

>>Dr. Nelson: Hello again. I am here with
Alan Veile and in– it must’ve been about 2000, I took my first class on American Indian
literature that Alan was teaching. And it was right then at that moment that I decided
that I wanted to be a professor of American Indian literature. So I have Alan to thank
for it, not just for that but for coming and being with us today. Good to see you, Al.>>Dr Veile: Good to see you.>>Dr. Nelson: All right. You’ve been at this
for a while now?>>Dr. Veile: Yes sir.>>Dr. Nelson: You showed up here at OU what
year?>>Dr. Veile: 1967.>>Dr. Nelson: 1967. And that was when you
came out of Stanford, is that right?>>Dr. Veile: Right.>>Dr. Nelson: All right. And when you showed
up on campus it wasn’t to specialize in American Indian Literature?>>Dr. Veile: No, it was to teach Shakespeare.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh. What, what brought you
to American Indian lit?>>Dr. Veile: Well, if you remember, and if—>>Dr. Nelson: I don’t. [both laugh]>>Dr. Veile: Well the ’60s were a time of
turmoil and student demands and there had been a demand for—by the African American
students for African American studies in literature and so forth. And so the, OU had quite a few
Indian students, and they came to the Chairman of the English and said they’d like a course
in Indian Literature. And he told them, “If you can find somebody to teach it good luck,
because nobody knows anything about it.”>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: So they came to see me, and I
didn’t know anything about it but I said I’d, I’d work on it if they had patience and we’d,
I’d try to stay a week ahead of them. [Dr. Nelson laughs] We’d make up some kind of course.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: That was about 1969 or so, and
I think it was the first one in the country.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: I, I know it got picked up by
the Norman Transcript, and eventually the New York Times. They—>>Dr. Nelson: Oh really?>>Dr. Veile: –saying this is the first course
in literature as literature rather than anthropology.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh. What did you teach in
that class?>>Dr. Veile: I taught “House Made of Dawn”,
which had just come out. I—>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. It won the Pulitzer that
year?>>Dr. Veile: Yes it did.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: And I taught “Winter in the Blood”
which was, a portion of it had been published in the South Dakota Review, but it was not
a book.>>Dr. Nelson: I see.>>Dr. Veile: And I taught “Wah’kon-tah”, a
John Joseph Matthews’ novel from the thirties.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: And a lot of poetry from “Akwesasne
Notes”. I was scrambling. There wasn’t really a lot out at the time.>>Dr. Nelson: I was going to say, it must
have taken no small amount of digging to pop–>>Dr. Veile: That’s mostly what it was.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah.>>Dr. Veile: Trying to find what we could.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. Yeah, very good. Well
I image that Momaday had a pretty significant influence?>>Dr. Veile: Very.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, so in ’68 “House Made
of Dawn” came out, ’69 it won the Pulitzer. And you spend no little time studying “House
Made of Dawn” it seems?>>Dr. Veile: Yes, I’ve taught it more than
I think I taught anything else. I must’ve taught it 30, 40 times in one context or another.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. What sort of impact do
you think that that book had on American Indian literature in general?>>Dr. Veile: I think it had a massive impact.
That…for one thing, it kicked off what later came to be known in the, in the ’80s as the
American Indian Renaissance. Before “House Made of Dawn” there were nine novels in English
by American Indian authors. Now there are hundreds.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And it’s, after “House Made of
Dawn” won the Pulitzer, Viking and Harpers went out looking for Indian writers. And they
signed up writers like Costo and James Welch.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And pretty soon…Welsh told
me directly that he wanted to be a writer, but until Momaday had success he didn’t think
he could.>>Dr. Nelson: Hmmm.>>Dr. Veile: So after the success of “House
Made of Dawn” it was pretty easy for a good Indian writer to get published.>>Dr. Nelson: I see. Well it seems like there
was a time then where that kind of slacked off, but then of course picked back up. And
I think it was Sherman Alexie who kind of functioned in that kind of leadership or prominent
role for me.>>Dr. Veile: It’s been a pretty steady, I
mean by 1990, I think there were 90 novels, and now there are well over 100. But the other
thing about it is Indian literature…there are several things that are unique about it.
Indian novelists are often poets, and there are hardly any other writers who do both in
any ethnic group or nationality. Hemmingway wrote verse and it’s terrible, James Joyce
wrote verse and it’s terrible. So either they don’t do it, or they don’t do it well.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: But most Indian writers do fiction
and poetry. And the other thing is they read each other, and there’s a terrific influence
in that sense. Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn” is about Abel, a Pueblo Indian who comes back
from World War II with what we know now as post-traumatic stress disorder.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Then it didn’t have a name, but—>>Dr. Nelson: Shell shock or something like
that.>>Dr. Veile: Yeah. I don’t think Momaday calls
it anything, but it’s clear he has it.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And of course he had terrible
times adjusting to peacetime.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Well so James Welch was really
impressed by the novel, and he wrote about an Indian, nameless, last name was First Raise,
who has a sort of a civilian equivalent to post-traumatic stress syndrome. A, a malaise,
winter in his blood as Welch calls it, where he’s sort of numb psychologically. And the
novel is really given shape by the myth of the wasteland, you know the one that T.S Eliot
used and—>>Dr. Nelson: The Fisher King and—>>Dr. Veile: The Fisher King and all of this,
which ends up with a freeing of the waters.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: It rains and the land blooms,
it’s been a wasteland. Well if you don’t recognize that it looks like the book just stops, but
it actually has a climax—>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Where he’s sitting in the rain,
and it’s the freeing of the waters.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: Well, so Leslie Silko writes
a book with a Pueblo Indian hero just like Momaday’s—>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –who comes back with PTSD–>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: –and he can’t adjust. And the
book uses Laguna myths, which are very much like the Wasteland myth.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: A wasteland or a desert and a,
a freeing of the waters. Well she uses that, and Momaday was very impressed by the use
of Laguna myths so he wrote a book, “The Ancient Child”–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –where he used Kiowa myths–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –about a boy who turns into
a bear.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And Louise Erdrich has her character
Fleur Pillager turn into a bear.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: So you have this– you can see
the influence.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: Louis Owens wrote a book where
he mentioned almost all those things. It’s almost a parody, you know. And he has a character
named Tayo who just is a walk-on character—>>Dr. Nelson: Oh?>>Dr. Veile: Anyway, terrific book and it
tries to weave all of those things together.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. I wonder if you have
ideas about what brings about that kind of inter-textual conversation? What, what seems
to be compelling people to be in conversation in that sort of way, do you think?>>Dr. Veile: Well I think they feel a, a kinship
as Indian writers.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And they deal with the same themes
and they read each other’s work, and you know some people, some movements are the type of
movements where people get together in a room and they write a manifesto, like serialism.
Some movements like romanticism, the poets don’t even know they’re a group until 50 years
later. [Dr. Nelson laughs] Some professor says, “Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley were
romantics.”>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Well Indian writers may not have
issued a manifesto, but they’re a self-conscious group.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And they read each other’s works
and take them seriously and enter the conversation.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. Hmmm. And I imagine,
we spoke with Geary Hobson not long ago and he talked about the Returning of the Gift
Conference where—>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson –you know, he’s bringing a whole
pile of Indian writers together.>>Dr. Veile: Yes. Literally. Getting them
together.>>Dr. Nelson: Right right. Well I’m wondering
about Oklahoma as a place. Now Oklahoma doesn’t figure that prominently in “House Made of
Dawn.” There are some spots where it shows up here and there.>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: But I wonder if you think that
Oklahoma plays a particularly important role, or writers coming out of Oklahoma?>>Dr. Veile: Well, first of all…”The Way
to Rainy Mountain” is an Oklahoma book.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And second of all “The Ancient
Child”, Momaday’s second book is an Oklahoma book.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Part of it takes place in San
Francisco, but the important part takes place right around Anadarko.>>Dr. Nelson: Right. And the names too, of
course is–>>Dr. Veile: Of course. Right. Well that’s
more about New Mexico but there’s an Oklahoma section.>>Dr. Nelson: Right. Well and two, and I,
I’d hoped we could talk to Geary about this a little bit but didn’t get much of a chance,
but in many ways American Indian literature kind of grows out of Oklahoma.>>Dr. Veile: There are an awful lot of Oklahoma
writers.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah. We, we mentioned, I think
John Rollin Ridge’s first novel as far as we know, even though it doesn’t have a lot
to do either with Oklahoma or with Indians.>>Dr. Veile: “Yellowbird.”>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: Yeah, “Yellowbird”, Joaquin Murrieta
book.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, right. And then too we’ve
got Alice Callahan’s “Wynema.”>>Dr. Veile: Yeah.>>Dr. Nelson: And and Will Rogers, who we’ll
be reading a little bit of.>>Dr. Veile: Yes, you know people from the
rest of the country, if we ask them what ethnic group was Will Rogers they’d have no idea
but he called himself “The Cherokee Kid”.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: He very much had an Indian identity.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: The fact that people in New York
were ignorant of it, I don’t think makes a difference.>>Dr. Nelson: [laughs] Yeah, certainly not
to folks around here either, right? Who a, who know full well that he was Cherokee?>>Dr. Veile: Sure.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah.

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