Morgan Talty recommends what you should read for Native American Heritage Month
By Morgan Talty
Morgan Talty, the winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize on his debut short story collection, Night of the Living Rez with Tin House has curated a reading list for Native American Heritage Month. The acclaimed author is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation, who also won the New England Book Award, a Finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, and a Finalist for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Explore the depth and diversity of Native American literature through this thoughtfully crafted collection, celebrating the profound contributions of indigenous writers to the literary landscape!
1- Swim Home to the Vanished by Brendan Shay Basham | Bookshop
Who can speak higher of a book than the one and only Tommy Orange, who has this to say about this novel: “Swim Home to the Vanished is a lush and fantastic journey through strange lands and minds from an incandescent new voice full of my kind of melancholic brilliance and unromantic magic.” Brendan’s novel is full of wisdom, heart, and love. It’s a book you need to read because you will not forget this journey.
2- Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford | Bookshop
In her interconnected story collection set in 1974 by Kelli Jo Ford, Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine―a mixed-blood Cherokee woman― and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world―of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados―intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home. These stories stand alone but build together, a snowball rolling downhill until it explodes.
3- The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp | Bookshop
Richard Van Camp’s novel tells the story of Larry, Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the centre of the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school “tramp.” This is a dark yet funny novel and one that you won’t forget. To be honest, I re-read it every year.
4- A Calm and Normal Heart: Stories by Chelsea T. Hicks | Bookshop
I asked who could speak higher of a book than Tommy Orange, and there is someone: the marvellous Louise Erdrich. Erdrich has this to say: “Chelsea T. Hicks’ deadpan dexterous wit can make you laugh and cry in the space of a heartbeat. A Calm and Normal Heart is the book I’ve been waiting for— audacious, tender, and fiercely committed.” A Calm and Normal Heart is so striking in its ability to dramatize narrative, but what sets this book apart is Chelsea’s unbelievable way of being able to articulate the human condition as it relates to being Indigenous. And it is never for performance: This is a sincere book full of love, meaning, truth, and damn good storytelling.
5- Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson | Bookshop
This was one of those novels I did not want to end. I think about it so often. The novel follows fifteen-year-old Cherokee Sequoya, scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse, who is placed in foster care with the Troutts. He keeps mostly to himself until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, another youth staying with the Troutts. Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, things don’t go the way they are supposed to. This novel is full of pain, but it’s full of love and tenderness—the kind that expands the heart for the better.
Also on PEN America:
- Native American Heritage Month Reading list by Author Oscar Hokeah
- Resistance, Resilience, and Reclamation – A Native American Heritage Month Reading List