From memoirs to poetry to fiction, discover the rich and diverse world of Indigenous storytelling with this list of 15 exceptional Native authors and their work for National American Indian Heritage Month.
Happy National American Indian Heritage Month! I'm so excited to honor and spotlight the amazing creativity and accomplishments of Indigenous, Native American, and First Nation writers. Throughout November, I'll be using my social media spaces to celebrate and highlight creatives of Indigenous, Native American, and First Nation descent, and I hope you'll follow along!
To kick off the monthly celebration, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite Indigenous writers and titles on my TBR (to-be-read) list. I've handpicked a diverse range of genres, including poetry, anthologies, memoirs, and fiction. With 15 unique titles to choose from, I hope you find something that catches your eye.
To make it even easier for you to connect with these talented writers, I've included links to each book where available.
📚 Libby: This free app is a one-stop shop where you can read ebooks, listen to audiobooks, or flip through magazines from your local library.
💲 Book Shop: This online retailer supports independent booksellers by connecting you directly with these shops. Not only do you get access to great reads, but every purchase you make on their site helps those small businesses thrive.
Children & YA Literature
Fatty Legs: A True Story (2010)
From Inuvialuit author Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and her daughter-in-law Christy Jordan-Fenton, Fatty Legs is an autobiographical account of Margaret's experiences at a residential school. The book beautifully captures her determination and resilience in the face of adversity.
Eight-year-old Margaret wants to learn how to read, but to do so, she must leave her village in the high Arctic. Her father finally agrees to let her attend school but warns her about the terrors of residential schools. At school, Margaret meets the Raven, a cruel nun who gives her red stockings, causing her to become the laughingstock of the entire school. Despite the Raven's cruelty, Margaret bravely gets rid of the stockings and teaches the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.
Complemented by archival photos from Pokiak-Fenton's collection and striking artwork from illustrator Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a brave girl's determination to confront her tormentor will inspire young readers to stand up for themselves and others.
Firekeeper’s Daughter (2021)
This captivating YA novel from Chippewa author Angeline Boulley skillfully weaves together elements of suspense, cultural identity, and family dynamics. Firekeeper's Daughter follows Daunis Fontaine, a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal. She's never quite fit in her hometown or the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When her family is struck by tragedy, Daunis puts her dreams on hold to care for her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother's hockey team.
After Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that thrusts her into a criminal investigation, she agrees to go undercover. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up, and soon, the threat strikes too close to home. How far will she go to protect her community if it means tearing apart the only world she's ever known?
Still This Love Goes On (2022)
Based on the Academy Award-winning Cree icon Buffy Sainte-Marie's song of the same name, Still This Love Goes On is a beautiful celebration of the Indigenous experience. It highlights the enduring love and unbreakable bond between a mother and her child, making it a touching picture book suitable for young children and families. The heartwarming story is brought to life by the stunning illustrations of Cree-Métis artist Julie Flett, which add to its beauty and charm.
Poetry & Anthologies
by Leslie Marmon Silko 💲
Leslie Marmon Silko's groundbreaking book, Storyteller, is a reflection of her deep connection to her Laguna Pueblo heritage. Through vivid storytelling, she weaves together themes of tradition, spirituality, and the enduring power of narrative. Blending original short stories and poetry influenced by the traditional oral tales she heard growing up on the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, Silko combines these with autobiographical passages, folktales, family memories, and photographs.
Storyteller illustrates how one can frame collective cultural identity in contemporary literary forms. This book highlights the significance of storytelling in preserving cultural identity and passing down traditions from generation to generation; it illuminates the importance of myth, oral tradition, and ritual in Silko's own work.
In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991 (1992)
by N. Scott Momaday 💲
Kiowa artist and Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday is celebrated for his storytelling, but In the Presence of the Sun is essential reading. In the Presence of the Sun is a collection of poetry, stories, and drawings that span over three decades of the author's career. Through his writing, Momaday offers readers a profound insight into Native American culture, spirituality, and the natural world.
The book features Momaday's thoughts on cultural heritage, which are beautifully woven into his writing. He shares his experiences and perspectives on how cultural traditions are passed down through generations and how they influence how we see the world. His insights into spirituality are equally profound, as he draws on his own experiences to discuss the interconnectedness of all living things.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020)
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through is an anthology of Native American poetry edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The book includes contributions from over 160 poets from nearly 100 indigenous nations, showcasing the rich diversity of Native American poetry. The book opens with a blessing from N. Scott Momaday and contains powerful introductions from contributing editors representing the five geographically organized sections.
The anthology features some of the most renowned Native American writers, such as Luci Tapahanso, Natalie Diaz, Layli Long Soldier, and Ray Young Bear. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through is an extraordinary sweep of Native literature essential for studying American poetry.
Monkey Beach (2000)
by Eden Robinson 📚
Monkey Beach is a coming-of-age mystery novel by Eden Robinson, a Canadian author from the Isla and Heiltsuk First Nations. The book artfully blends Indigenous folklore with contemporary life, resulting in a touching story about the pain of growing older and childhood memories.
The story follows Lisamarie Hill as she embarks on a journey to find her younger brother, Jimmy, who has gone missing at sea. The narrative switches back and forth between Lisa's current quest to reach Monkey Beach and reflecting on her childhood growing up in Kitamaat, British Columbia.
There There (2018)
Tommy Orange's debut novel, There There, follows twelve characters from Native communities. All of them are on their way to the Big Oakland Powwow, and they are all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, who is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene is also on his way to the powwow. He is trying to pull his life together after his uncle's death and is working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil is coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American community. They grapple with a complex and painful history, an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, communion, sacrifice, and heroism.
Night of the Living Rez (2022)
Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, survive, and persevere after tragedy.
In twelve stories, Morgan Talty examines the struggles of family and community bonds as they navigate through a complicated past and uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family's unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's projects the past onto her grandson, and thinks he is her dead brother come back to life; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013)
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the connection between humans and the natural world, combining scientific insights with Indigenous wisdom. Drawing on her extensive background in botany and ecology, as well as her experiences as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer's book offers a unique perspective on environmental stewardship and encourages readers to embrace a more reciprocal approach to our relationship with the earth.
Heart Berries: A Memoir (2018)
Terese Marie Mailhot's memoir Heart Berries is a poignant account of her life growing up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation. Through her vivid and evocative writing style, she paints a vivid picture of her experiences and takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery and healing. The raw emotion and poetic language used in her writing make for a profoundly moving and thought-provoking read that lingers long after the last page is turned.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2014)
Renowned activist, author, and editor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz dives deep into the history of the United States and offers a fresh and critical perspective from the point of view of Indigenous peoples. Her book, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, challenges the conventional and often one-sided narratives of American history and provides a comprehensive and eye-opening account of the impact of colonization on Native communities. Through her insightful and thought-provoking analysis, Dunbar-Ortiz brings to light the often-overlooked struggles and experiences of Indigenous peoples throughout the history of the United States.
Art & Culture
Indigenous Aesthetics: Native Art, Media, and Identity (1998)
Have you ever wondered how a Native or Indigenous person would capture their own culture through the lens of a video camera? How would the images differ from those created by a Westernized filmmaker? What impact would the use of a non-Native art-making medium, such as video or film, have on the aesthetics of Native culture?
These are some of the questions that Steven Leuthold delves into in his study of Native American aesthetics, art, media, and identity. He examines how Native filmmakers incorporate traditional concepts, such as the connection to place, the sacred, and the cycles of nature, into their work while using Westernized media. Leuthold argues that Native filmmaking creates and preserves a sense of identity for Indigenous people.
The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen (2017)
Embark on a culinary journey with The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, where the rich and diverse flavors of modern Indigenous cuisine from the Dakota and Minnesota territories are brought to life. This exceptional dining experience offers much more than just delectable dishes, as it also provides a window into the fascinating history and culture of Indigenous peoples. From the traditional ingredients to the authentic cooking techniques, every aspect of Indigenous Kitchen transports you to a world of unique and flavorful cuisine that is both educational and satisfying.
New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian (2021)
In this comprehensive and insightful book, chefs and cookbook authors Freddie Bitsoie and James O. Fraioli guide readers through the rich and diverse world of Native American cooking. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Bitsoie shares expert techniques, innovative approaches, and fascinating insights into the cultural heritage of American cuisine. The book features a vast array of recipes inspired by the different Native American peoples, each bursting with unique flavors and aromas. From traditional dishes to modern twists, New Native Kitchen is a must-have for any home cook looking to explore and celebrate the rich tapestry of Indigenous culinary traditions.
Thanks for checking out this list of Indigenous authors and their works! I hope that by browsing through it, you have gained a deeper appreciation for the power of storytelling within Native communities. These authors have gifted us with their unique perspectives and voices, and I hope that by browsing through this list, you've gained a deeper understanding of the power of storytelling within Native communities. You may even be inspired to add one of these titles to your own TBR list.
But don't forget—this list is just a starting point! There are so many more incredible stories out there waiting to be explored and loved. So, let's continue to show our support for Indigenous voices not just in November but all year round. By doing so, we can honor their heritage and culture while recognizing the strength and creativity of these incredible storytellers.
National American Indian Heritage Month:
Indigenous, Native American, and First Nation Writers Resources: