Gerald Vizenor: Wikis


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Gerald Vizenor

Gerald Vizenor photographed in Geneva, 2006.
Born 1934
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, poet, literary critic, ethnographer
Genres Postmodern, Anishinaabe traditional, haiku
Literary movement Postmodernism, Native American Renaissance
Notable work(s) Interior Landscapes, Manifest Manners, Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart
Official website

Gerald Robert Vizenor (born 1934) is a Native American (Anishinaabe) writer, and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation. One of the most prolific Native American writers, with over 30 books to his name, Vizenor also taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was Director of Native American Studies. Vizenor is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico.


Early life

Gerald Vizenor’s father was murdered in an unsolved homicide when Vizenor himself was less than two years old.[1] He was raised by his Anishinaabe grandmother, his Swedish American mother (an alcoholic), and a succession of uncles in Minneapolis and the White Earth Reservation. Following the death of his informal stepfather, who had been his primary caregiver, Vizenor lied about his age to enter the Minnesota National Guard in 1950 at age 15. Honorably discharged before his unit went to Korea, Vizenor joined the army two years later, serving in a Japan still reeling from the impact of nuclear attack. This period would inspire his interest in haiku, and much later his 2004 "kabuki novel" Hiroshima Bugi.

Returning to America in 1953, Vizenor took advantage of G.I. Bill funding to start a degree at New York University: this was followed by additional postgraduate study at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota, where he also undertook graduate teaching. During this period he married and had a son.


Between 1964 and 1968, Vizenor was a community advocate. During this time he served as director of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis, which brought him into close contact with dislocated Native Americans from reservations, many finding it profoundly difficult to survive in a culture of white racism and cheap alcohol. This period is the subject of his collection Wordarrows: Whites and Indians in the New Fur Trade, some of the stories in which were inspired by real events. Working with homeless and poor Natives may have been the reason that Vizenor looked askance at the emerging American Indian Movement (AIM), seeing radical leaders such as Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt as being more concerned with personal publicity than the "real" problems faced by American Indians.

In this spirit, Vizenor began working as a staff reporter on the Minneapolis Tribune, quickly rising to become an editorial contributor. His investigation into the case of Thomas James White Hawk, while never pretending that White Hawk was innocent, raised difficult questions about the nature of justice in dealing with colonized peoples. It was credited with being the work that led to the death sentence on White Hawk being commuted.

During this period Vizenor coined the phrase “cultural schizophrenia” to describe the state of mind of many Natives torn between Native and White cultures. His investigative journalism into the activities of American Indian activists uncovered many instances of hypocrisy and drug dealing among the movement’s leaders, and earned him a number of death threats.

Teaching career

Beginning teaching at Lake Forest College, Illinois, Vizenor was quickly appointed to set up and run the Native American Studies program at Bemidji State University. Later he was professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis[2] (1978-1985), which he satirized mercilessly in his fictions.[3] During this time he was also a visiting professor at Tianjin University, China. Following four years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was Provost of Kresge College, and an endowed chair for one year at the University of Oklahoma, Vizenor took up a professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. He is current professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico.


Vizenor has published collections of haiku, poems, plays, short stories, translations of traditional tribal tales, screenplays and of course many novels. He has been named as a member of the literary movement Kenneth Lincoln dubbed the Native American Renaissance.[4] His first novel, Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart (1978), later revised as Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990), brought him immediate attention. One of few science fiction novels by a Native American, it portrayed a procession of tribal pilgrims through a surreal, dystopian landscape of an America suffering an environmental apocalypse brought on by white greed for oil. Simultaneously postmodern and deeply traditional, inspired by N. Scott Momaday's pioneering works, Vizenor drew on poststructuralist theory and Anishinaabe trickster stories to portray a world in the grip of what he called “terminal creeds” – belief systems incapable of change. In one of the most famous and controversial passages, the character Belladonna Winter-Catcher proclaims that Natives are better and purer than whites, and is killed for her belief in racial separatism with poisoned cookies.

Subsequent novels have seen a shifting and overlapping cast of tricksters turn up anywhere from China to White Earth to the University of East Anglia. Frequently quoting philosophers such as Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard, Vizenor’s fiction is allusive, humorous and playful, but always ultimately serious in dealing with the state of Native America. Proclaiming himself as much the enemy of those who would romanticize the figure of the Native as he is of those who would continue colonial oppression, Vizenor constantly returns to the theme that the “Indian” was an invention of European invaders – before Columbus’ first landing, there was no such thing as an “Indian”, only the peoples of various tribes (such as Anishinaabe or Dakota).

To deconstruct the idea of "Indianness," Vizenor uses strategies of irony and jouissance. For instance, in the lead up to Columbus Day in 1992, he published The Heirs Of Columbus, in which he teasingly claims that Columbus was in fact a Mayan Indian trying to return home. In Hotline Healers, he claims that Richard Nixon, the American president who did more for American Indians than any other, did so as part of a deal in exchange for traditional “virtual reality” technology.


Vizenor has authored several studies of Native American affairs, most famously Manifest Manners, and in addition has edited several collections of academic work on Native American writing. He is the founder-editor of the American Indian Literature and Critical Studies series at the University of Oklahoma Press (1990 to present), which has provided an important venue for critical work on and by Native writers.

In his own full-length studies, Vizenor is concerned with deconstructing the semiotics of Indianness. In place of a unified “Indian” signifier, he suggests that Native peoples be referred to as tribal, and always where possible put into their own particular tribal context. To discuss more general Native studies, he suggests using the term "postindian," which would get across the idea of disparate, heterogeneous tribal cultures unified only by Euro-American attitudes and actions towards them. Among his many other invented or toyed-with words is “survivance”, which he uses as a replacement for “survival”, saying that it carries an implication of an ongoing, changing process, rather than the simple continuance of old ways into the modern world.

He continues to be critical of both Native American nationalism and Euro-American colonial attitudes.


  • Distinguished Minnesotan, Bemidji State University, 2005
  • Distinguished Achievement Award, Western Literature Association, 2005
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, 2001
  • PEN Excellence Award, 1990 and 1996
  • Artists Fellowship in Literature, California Arts Council, 1989
  • New York Fiction Collective Prize, 1988
  • American Book Award, 1988
  • Film-in-the-Cities Award, Sundance Festival, 1983


  1. ^ Vizenor, Interior Landscapes, pp. 28-32.
  2. ^ University of Minnesota Department of American Indian Studies Homepage
  3. ^ "The Chair of Tears", in Earthdivers, pp 3-29
  4. ^ Kenneth Lincoln, Native American Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).




  • Father Meme (U of New Mexico P)
  • Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57 (Nebraska UP)
  • Chancers (Oklahoma UP)
  • Hotline Healers: An Almost Browne Novel (Wesleyan UP)
  • Dead Voices: Natural Agonies in the New World (Oklahoma UP)
  • Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (Minnesota UP)
  • The Heirs of Columbus (Wesleyan UP)
  • Griever: An American Monkey King in China (Minnesota UP)
  • The Trickster of Liberty: Tribal Heirs to a Wild Baronage (Emergent Literatures)
  • Earthdivers: Tribal Narratives on Mixed Descent (Minnesota UP)
  • Landfill Meditation: Crossblood Stories (Wesleyan UP)


  • Almost Ashore (Salt Publishing, 2006)
  • Bear Island: The War At Sugar Point (Minnesota UP, 2006)
  • Empty Swings (Haiku in English Series) (Nodin Press)
  • Matsushima (Pine Island Nodin Press, 1984)
  • Raising the Moon Vines (Nodin Press)
  • Seventeen Chirps (Nodin Press)
  • Two Wings the Butterfly (privately printed)
  • Water Striders (Moving Parts Press)
  • Slight Abrasions: A Dialogue in Haiku, with Jerome Downes (Nodin Press)
  • Summer in the Spring: Anishinaabe Lyric Poems and Stories (Oklahoma UP)
  • South of the Painted Stones (1963)
  • The Old Park Sleepers (1961)
  • Poems Born in the Wind (1960)


  • Harold of Orange (1982)

Other works

  • Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence (Nebraska UP, 1998)
  • Shadow Distance: A Gerald Vizenor Reader (Wesleyan UP)
  • Wordarrows: Indians and Whites in the New Fur Trade (Minnesota UP)
  • Crossbloods; Bone Courts, Bingo, and Other Reports (Minnesota UP)
  • Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance (Wesleyan UP)
  • The Everlasting Sky; New Voices from the People Named the Chippewa (MacMillan)
  • The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories (Minnesota UP)
  • Touchwood : A Collection of Ojibway Prose (Many Minnesotas Project, No 3) (New Rivers Press)
  • Thomas James Whitehawk: Investigative Narrative in the Trial, Capital Punishment, and Commutation of the Death Sentence of Thomas James Whitehawk (Four Winds Press, 1968)

Edited anthology

  • Native American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology (1997)

Edited collections of essays

  • Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence (Nebraska UP, 2008)
  • Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures (Oklahoma UP)


  • Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors (Minnesota UP)
  • Postindian Conversations, with A. Robert Lee (Nebraska UP)

Books about Gerald Vizenor

  • Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition, by Kimberley Blaeser
  • Loosening the Seams: Interpretations of Gerald Vizenor, by A. Robert Lee
  • Four American Indian Literary Masters: N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko and Gerald Vizenor, by Alan R. Velie
  • Gerald Vizenor: Profils Americains 20, ed. Simone Pellerin. Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2007. (In English)

Articles about Gerald Vizenor


Visit Teepee Town: Native Writings After the Detours, Diane Glancy, Mark Nowak (Editors), Coffeehouse Press.

Stories Migrating Home: Anishnaabe Prose, Kimberly Blaeser (Editor), Loonfeather Press: Wisconsin

Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short Stories, Craig Lesley, Katheryn Stavrakis (Editor) Dell Books

Earth Song, Sky Spirit: Short Stories of the Contemporary Native American Experience, Clifford E. Trafzer (Editor)

Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature, Simon J. Ortiz (editor), Navajo Community College Press

Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: An Anthology of Poetry by American Indian Writers, Joseph Bruchac (Editor), Greenfield Review Press

Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion, Janet Witalec, Visible Ink Press.

Words in the Blood: Contemporary Indian Writers of North and South America, Jamake Highwater (Editor), New American Library.

Blue Dawn, Red Earth: New Native American Storytellers, Clifford E. Trafzer (Editor), Anchor Books

The Lightning Within: An Anthology of Contemporary American Indian Fiction, Edited and with an Introduction by Alan R. Velie, University of Nebraska Press.

American Indian Literature: An Anthology, Alan R. Velie, University of Oklahoma Press.

Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry, Duane Niatum (Editor) HarperCollins

Twenty Six Minnesota Writers, Monico D. Degrazia (Editor), Nodin Press.

After Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology, Larry McCaffery (Editor), Penguin USA

The New Native American Novel: Works in Progress, Mary Bartlett (Editor), University of New Mexico Press.

The Writer's Notebook, Howard Junker, HarperCollins.

Listening to Ourselves: More Stories from 'the Sound of Writing', Alan Cheuse, Caroline Marshall (Editor), Anchor Books.

Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation, Larry McCaffery (Editor), Fc2/Black Ice Books

Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology: Selections from the American Book Awards 1980-1990, Ishmael Reed, Kathryn Trueblood, Shawn Wong (Editor), W W Norton & Co.

Without Discovery: A Native Response to Columbus (Turning Point Series), Ray Gonzalez (Editor), Broken Moon Press.

A Gathering of Flowers: Stories About Being Young in America, Joyce Carol Thomas (Editor), Harpercollins Juvenile Books.

American Short Fiction, Spring 1991 by Laura Furman, University of Texas Press.

An Illuminated History of the Future by Curtis White (Editor), Fc2/Black Ice Books.

Fiction International, San Diego State University Press.

An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands, Alfred Arteaga (Editor), Duke University Press.

Contemporary Archaeology in Theory, (Social Archaeology), Robert Preucel (Editor), Ian Hodder (Editor), Blackwell Pub.

Encyclopedia of North American Indians, by Frederick E. Hoxie (Editor), Houghton Mifflin Co.

A Companion to American Thought (Blackwell Reference), Richard Wightman Fox (Editor), James T. Kloppenberg (Editor), Blackwell Pub.

Culture and the Imagination, Proceedings of the Third Stuttgart Seminar on Cultural Studies, Verlag Für Wissenschaft und Forschung, Stuttgart, Germany, 1995

From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America, Ronald Takaki (Editor), Oxford University Press.

Published interviews with or essays on Gerald Vizenor

Contemporary Authors: Biography - Vizenor, Gerald Robert (1934-), Thomson Gale.

Other Words: American Indian Literature, Law, and Culture, (American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series), Jace Weaver, Univ. Oklahoma Press.

Postindian Conversations, Gerald Robert Vizenor, A. Robert Lee, University of Nebraska Press.

Excavating Voices: Listening to Photographs of Native Americans, Michael Katakis (Editor), University of Pennsylvania Museum Press.

Mythic Rage and Laughter: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor, Dallas Miller, 1995, Studies in American Indian Literatures, 7, 77, 1995 Spring.

Subverting the Dominant Paradigm: Gerald Vizenor's Trickster Discourse, Kerstin Schmidt, Studies in American Indian Literatures, 7, 65, 1995 Spring.

That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community, Jace Weaver, Oxford University Press.

Text as trickster: postmodern language games in Gerald Vizenor's 'Bearheart.' (Maskers and Tricksters), An article from: MELUS, by Elizabeth Blair

Gerald Vizenor and his 'Heirs of Columbus': a postmodern quest for more discourse. An article from: The American Indian Quarterly by Barry E Laga

Monkey kings and mojo: postmodern ethnic humor in Kingston, Reed, and Vizenor, An article from: MELUS, by John Lowe

Postmodern bears in the texts of Gerald Vizenor (Critical Essay), An article from: MELUS, by Nora Baker Barry

"Bad Breath": Gerald Vizenor's Lacanian fable. (Critical Essay), An article from: Studies in Short Fiction by Linda Lizut Helstern

Native American Writers of the United States, (Dictionary of Literary Biography, V. 175), Kenneth M. Roemer (Editor), Gale Research.

Woodland word warrior: An introduction to the works of Gerald Vizenor, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.

Survival This Way: Interviews With American Indian Poets, Joseph Bruchac III (Editor), (Sun Tracks Books, No 15) University of Arizona Press.

Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, Laura Coltelli, University of Nebraska Press.

Partial Recall: With Essays on Photographs of Native North Americans, Lucy Lippard (Editor)

Contemporary Authors. Autobiography Series (Vol 22. Issn 0748-0636), Gale Research

American Contradictions: Interviews With Nine American Writers, Wolfgang Binder (Editor), Helmbrecht Breinig (Editor), Wesleyan University Press.

  • First published in German as Facing America, Multikulturelle Literatur def heutigen USA in Texten und Interviews, Rotpunktverlag, Leipzig, Germany, 1994.

Native American Autobiography: An Anthology (Wisconsin Studies in American Autobiography), Arnold Krupat (Editor), University of Wisconsin Press.

Growing Up in Minnesota: Ten Writers Remember Their Childhoods, Chester G. Anderson, University of Minnesota Press.

Inheriting the Land: Contemporary Voices from the Midwest, Mark Vinz (Editor), Thom Tammaro (Editor), University of Minnesota Press.

Gerald Vizenor, a special edition, Louis Owens (Editor), Studies in American Indian Literatures, Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 1997, including:

  • "Interior Dancers": Transformations of Vizenor's Poetic Vision, Kimberly M. Blaeser
  • The Ceded Landscape of Gerald Vizenor's Fiction, Chris LaLonde
  • Blue Smoke and Mirrors: Griever's Buddhist Heart, Linda Lizut Helstern
  • Liberation and Identity: Bearing the Heart of The Heirship Chronicles, Andrew McClure
  • Liminal Landscapes: Motion, Perspective and Place in Gerald Vizenor's Fiction, Bradley John Monsma
  • Waiting for Ishi: Gerald Vizenor's Ishi and the Wood Ducks and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Elvira Pulitano
  • Doubling in Gerald Vizenor's Bearheart: The Pilgrimage Strategy or Bunyan Revisited, Bernadette Rigel-Cellard
  • Legal and Tribal Identity in Gerald Vizenor's The Heirs of Columbus, Stephen D. Osborne

Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel, (American Indian Literature and Critical Studies, Vol 3), Louis Owens, University of Oklahoma Press.

Mediation in Contemporary Native American Fiction (American Indian Literature and Critical Studies, Vol 15), James Ruppert, University of Oklahoma Press.

Native American Perspectives on Literature and History, (American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series, Vol 19) by Alan R. Velie (Editor), University of Oklahoma Press.

  • (Articles by Rodriguez, Velie and Blaeser address Vizenor's writings.)

The Turn to the Native, by Arnold Krupat, University of Nebraska Press.

Cultural Difference and the Literary Text: Pluralism and the Limits of Authenticity in North American Literatures, Edited by Winfried Siemerling and Katrin Schwenk

I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, Brian Swann, Arnold Krupat, Brompton Books Corp.

Buried Roots and Indestructible Seeds: The Survival of American Indian Life in Story, History, and Spirit, Martin Zanger (Editor), Mark A. Lindquist, University of Wisconsin Press.

Sacred Trusts: Essays on Stewardship and Responsibility, Michael Katakis, Russell Chatham (Illustrator), Mercury House.

Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to Present, 1492-1992, Peter Nabokov, Penguin USA

Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Mit Press.

Listening to Native Americans: Making Peace with the Past for the Future, John Barry Ryan, in Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture, Vol. 31, No.1 Winter 1996 pp. 24–36.

Transformation in Progress by Annalee Newitz and Jillian Sandell, in Bad Subjects, an online journal.

Spring Wind Rising: The American Indian Novel and the Problem of History, Stripes, James D., A dissertation.


The McGraw-Hill Introduction to Literature, Gilbert H. Muller, McGraw Hill Text.

Ways in: Approaches to Reading and Writing About Literature, Gilbert H. Muller, John A. Williams, McGraw Hill Text.

The Harper American Literature, Volume 1; 2nd Edition, Donald McQuade, Robert Atwan, Martha Banta, Justin Kaplan, Harpercollins College Div.

Writing available online

Almost Ashore from the Salt Publishing site, including a video clip and audio of Vizenor reading the following poems:

  • Blue Horses
  • Choir of Memory
  • Depot Graves
  • Guthrie Theater
  • Huffy Henry
  • Paul Celan
  • Raising the Flag
  • September Light
  • White Earth

Stone Babies from Weber Studies

Gerald Vizenor in Dialogue with A. Robert Lee from Weber Studies

External links

See also


  • This article incorporates text from Nativewiki under the GFDL license.


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