Cover image for Native American literatures : an encyclopedia of works, characters, authors, and themes
Native American literatures : an encyclopedia of works, characters, authors, and themes
Whitson, Kathy J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-CLIO, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 295 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
An encyclopedia of Native American literatures featuring articles on individual authors, on individual works, on important characters in works, and on terms and events of historical significance that figure in many of the works.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS153.I52 W47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS153.I52 W47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



The earliest Native American writers wrote tribal histories or autobiographical accounts. Today, Native American writing is steeped in the oral traditions of many peoples and reflects a facility with language that is equally at home in prose or poetry.

Native American Literatures is a sourcebook that can enhance any reader's appreciation of both the writers and their works. Cross referencing allows readers to move easily among the listings, guiding them to other examples of an author's works and from character to character within a given novel.

Author Notes

Kathy J. Whitson , Ph.D., is associate professor of English at Eureka College in Eureka, IL, specializing in Native American literatures.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The author of this guide is an associate professor of English at Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. More than 300 entries are arranged in alphabetical order by author, title, character name, theme, or significant historical event. The literary entries have analysis of the character, plot, themes, and autobiographical elements of the work or character. The biographies give the authors' tribal affiliations and analyze their lives as they relate to their work. Portraits are frequently included, and many of the thematic entries also have evocative black-and-white photographs. Entries range in length from a paragraph or two to slightly more than two pages. There are extensive cross-references . The writing is outstanding, fluid, and dynamic. Whitson delves into the psyches of the authors and characters of the literature that is born of the diverse Native American experience. Her love and understanding of the works is evident. There are several common elements: divided families and abandonment, alcoholism and depression, involuntary dislocation from the ancestral culture and nonacceptance from the culture into which these real and fictional people are supposed to be "adopted." Also common are character types such as disaffected youth in search of their birth culture and wise people who guide them on their journey. In her introduction the author states that she attempts to "provide summary and interpretive information on those texts that would most likely be read and studied by high-school students and college undergraduates." She also states, "In no way does this volume attempt to be comprehensive." There are entries for approximately 40 authors, from Samson Occom (b. 1723) to Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich. There is no entry for Susan Power, although there is extensive coverage of her 1994 novel, The Grass Dancer. Whitson does not analyze books marketed specifically to the YA audience, such as Michael Dorris' Morning Girl, Guests, or Sees Behind Trees, that are likely to be taught in high schools; she does not even mention the prolific and popular YA author Jamake Highwater. Although the bibliography is useful for further research, a complete list of works by the authors treated would have been helpful, as would a list of authors by tribal affiliation. Gale's Native North American Literature [RBB Ap 15 95] covers 78 writers but does not have separate discussions of titles, characters, and themes. Garland's Dictionary of Native American Literature [RBB Ap 15 95] contains scholarly essays arranged by historical period. This new title is an excellent addition to literary criticism for the reference sections of public and academic libraries. Many high-school libraries will find it useful and affordable, too.

Library Journal Review

This selective encyclopedia focuses on the "verbal art"Äas expressed in the written wordÄof Native Americans. Alphabetical entries, from one to five paragraphs in length, appear in four categories: author, characters, works, and historical terms/ events. There is also a comprehensive table of contents and a single index covering subject, author, and title. An extensive bibliography provides cites to related sources, and more than 45 photographs and illustrations appear throughout. Although the book covers Native American "literatures" (encompassing poetry, fiction, and prose) from the 18th century to the present, the focus is decidedly on the 20th-century works most studied in schools and colleges. Although the encyclopedia is not intended to be comprehensive, several omissions are noteworthy. For example, the poet John Rollin Ridge and the genre of literary autobiography are discussed in the introductory essays, yet neither is given an entry. These minor omissions and the author's selectivity should not detract from this book's being the only current encyclopedia available on Native American literature. Highly recommended for all high school and college reference collections.ÄLois Cherepon, St. John's Univ., Staten Island, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Over the past five years, increasing numbers of reference works have been published on American Indian literature. This concise volume provides biographical and critical information on the lives and works of more than 40 American Indian writers, with particular emphasis on characters and themes in the works of Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and Sherman Alexie. Indeed, roughly a third of all the entries are devoted to Erdrich and Silko (not surprisingly, Whitson's 1994 dissertation was on Erdrich). Other writers covered extensively include Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, and newcomer Susan Power. The style is clear and accessible, and entries range in length from a paragraph to several pages; grainy black-and-white photographs accompany some entries. Readers needing authoritative biographical information on authors or detailed critical analyses will want to use other works, such as Dictionary of Native American Literature, ed. by Andrew Wiget (CH, Jun'95), Native American Writers of the United States, ed. by Kenneth M. Roemer (1997), or Native North American Literature, ed. by Janet Witalec et al. (CH, Jun'95). Whitson's title is unique for its focus on literary characters. In this niche, it will be a useful companion to those other works, and a necessary addition to libraries at institutions teaching American Indian literature (particularly the writers mentioned above) and literature by women of color. S. A. Vega Garcia Iowa State University