"Don't say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You've heard it now."
- Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
I’m gratefully savoring the prolific, wise, and witty Indigenous centered works of Thomas King. This author of much acclaim is based in Canada, with Cherokee, Greek, and Swiss German heritage, and a worthy author to recommend to fans of the complex, lyrical, and often humorous Louise Erdrich (a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa).
Thomas King features turtles prominently in the book I just finished, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. He begins each essay in this collection with a variation of a story he knows of how the earth is supported on the back of a turtle. In every telling the world remains on the turtle's back.
"And the turtle never swims away."
Each time King recounts this story an inquisitive listener asks what was below the turtle? Another turtle. And below that? Another turtle. How many turtles are there?
“The storyteller shrugged. No one knows for sure, but it’s turtles all the way down.”
The engaging multilayered narratives within the essays reveal North American historical anecdotes as well as autobiographical experiences from the author's life and several trickster tales! This publication began as a series of presentations on CBC/Radio-Canada.
In his 2003 Massey lecture, award-winning author and scholar Thomas King looks at the breadth and depth of Native experience and imagination.
As soon as I completed The Truth About Stories I picked up Green Grass, Running Water; this complex novel is a playful, thought-provoking, witty, richly mythological, magical, cinematically descriptive, community and character-centered celebration of Blackfoot (Siksika) and other Native Americans which includes creation tales that challenge the cultural dominance of Christianity. The title reflects the phrase from a 19th century treaty in which the government promised land rights to Indigenous people, "as long as the grass is green and the water runs." And if you enjoyed The Sentence by Louise Erdrich or the anthropomorphic cryptid tales in Jackalope by Denise Low (Delaware/Lenape and Cherokee) then you will love this too!
I learned about Thomas King's books from Lawrence-based artist Lora Jost, opens a new window; she noted both of the above titles among her favorites. And now that I've also become enchanted, the library has agreed to add his most recent novels: Indians on Vacation and Sufferance. I'm looking forward to armchair travel with a semi-autobiographical excursion to the Czech Republic capital of Prague with Indians on Vacation.
Discover more about the author's latest book via this CBC/Radio-Canada post; you'll find two excellent interviews below the summary.
Jeremiah Camp, a.k.a. the Forecaster, can look into the heart of humanity and see the patterns that create opportunities and profits for the rich and powerful.
Whether you choose the titles I've highlighted here or others -- including illustrated books for children, I hope you will become enchanted and enlightened by storytelling word-smith Thomas King!
Being near the Wakarusa and Kansas (Kaw) Rivers, I want to honor and express gratitude to the local Native lands of the Dakota, Delaware (Lenape), Kansa (Kaw), Kickapoo, Lakota, Osage, Sac and Fox, Shawnee, and actually hundreds more tribes who find connection here with Haskell Indian Nations University. As Ken Lassman (author of Wild Douglas County, opens a new window and Kaw Valley Almanac, opens a new window) noted: “Haskell Indian Nations University is the United Nations of tribes, with members of hundreds of tribes coming here over the lifetime of its existence."
Appreciation to Denise Low, opens a new window for helping me make sure I acknowledged each Native American tribe by their preferred name.
- Shirley Braunlich is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.