Allison's Book Bag

Native Writers by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernest

Posted on: March 15, 2014

Anyone who likes to read about authors or about famous Native Americans will find much to enjoy about Native Writers by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernest. The ten biographies within it provide a solid introduction to the profiled authors, while the page layout is simple but clean. There is a resources page, glossary, and other standard text features. Part of the Native Trailblazer series, Native Writers not only makes for an interesting read, but will also help teach about Native American culture.

Selecting which authors to profile in a biography anthology is no doubt a difficult task. The ten contemporaries selected for Native Writers makes for a reasonably diverse mix. Numerous tribes are represented: Abenki, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Coeur D’Alene, Cree, Kiowa, Metis, Ojibwe, and Salish. To my surprise, several of the authors featured were Canadian. For a book printed in the United States, written by American authors, and in all likelihood distributed mostly in the United States, I’m not sure if this was the best choice. However, being Canadian myself, I appreciate their inclusion. Females are featured almost as often as males. Some names are among the current best-known Native writers such as Sherman Alexie, Joseph Bruchac, and Louise Erdrich. Others are less familiar, which caused me about the decision-making process behind the collection. In my own search for must-read Native American authors, I found multiple others who seemed like worthy candidates. Even so, the ten biographies make a good starting place for anyone who wants to read about contemporary Native authors.

As for the writing itself, it is fairly straightforward. Most of the profiles tell when and where an author is born, provide highlights from his/her childhood and youth, and then focus on the author’s writing career. In contrast to similar series, there is perhaps less of attempt to entertain and more of intent to educate. For example, some biographies start with an interesting or pivotal moment from the author’s life. Those in Native Writers instead focus on how the included authors ended up feeling that they have a responsibility to contribute to a Native American perspective. While this might make Native Writers of less of interest to students outside of the Native culture, it still does have a lot to offer for all audiences.

Speaking of which, the writing feels suitable for students below high school age and yet the design seems more appropriate for older readers. Often, the authors provided explanations of words in the glossary, the text itself, or side bars. This makes it feel intended for a younger audience. However, the design is monochrome and plain. While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s not eye-catching. Anthologies intended for elementary students tend to include color graphics and varied type sizes, along with playful positioning of side bars.

The text features, however, are the most problematic. I’m not sure why the glossary is at the front instead of being part of standard back page fare. While I think it’s fine to define words related to writing, terms connected to Native American culture would also have been appreciated. I have the same quibble or suggestion about the side bars. Also, one of the glossary definitions is wrong, making me question others. (A third-person narrator just means the story is told in third-person or through use of he/she and not that the narrator isn’t a character in the story.) I like that the works of the various authors are listed, but the breakdown sometimes confused me because titles of fiction for young people weren’t always separated from the listing of general novel titles. In addition to the website links under resources, I wish books had also been included as these will date less. The text features did include photo credits, which at times gets neglected, and so kudos here to the authors.

Over all, Native Writers by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernest is of uneven quality. The good news is that the strength is in the biographies themselves. I enjoyed learning more about both familiar and unfamiliar authors, as well as about a culture different from mine. If these subjects interest you, Native Writers makes a decent launching point.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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