Cover image for Reading the fire : the traditional Indian literatures of America
Reading the fire : the traditional Indian literatures of America
Ramsey, Jarold, 1937-
Personal Author:
Revised and expanded.
Publication Information:
Seattle : University of Washington Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxvii, 332 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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PM155 .R35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reading the Fire engages America's ?first literatures,? traditional Native American tales and legends, as literary art and part of our collective imaginative heritage. This revised edition of a book first published to critical acclaim in 1983 includes four new essays.

Drawing on ethnographic data and regional folklore, Jarold Ramsey moves from origin and trickster narratives and Indian ceremonial texts, into interpretations of stories from the Nez Perce, Clackamas Chinook, Coos, Wasco, and Tillamook repertories, concluding with a set of essays on the neglected subject of Native literary responses to contact with Euroamericans. In his finely worked, erudite analyses, he mediates between an author-centered, print-based narrative tradition and one that is oral, anonymous, and tribal, adducing parallels between Native texts and works by Shakespeare, Yeats, Beckett, and Faulkner.

Author Notes

Jarold Ramsey is Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Rochester. This volume is a sequel to his anthology Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Ramsey (Univ. of Rochester) expands his earlier text (subtitled Essays in the Traditional Literatures of the Far West, CH, Dec'83) with four essays and revises it by accounting for contemporary writers. Of the three processes the author identifies in working with Native texts--reclamation of existing texts, publishing contemporary literary performances, and formal analysis of translated texts as examples of literary art--he sees his work as the last. He does not take the task lightly, fully understanding the difficulties blithely ignored by many--translation/textual transmission and the crossing of cultural chasms that such work entails. Ramsey chooses to proceed on this obstacle-strewn path because the rewards are so alluring: lessening ethnocentrism and increasing literacy. His work succeeds in the best tradition of comparative literature. It is especially valuable for its nondogmatic, critical view of literary theory. Excellent notes and index, updated bibliography. Recommended for both beginning and advanced inquiry into Native texts. J. W. Parins; University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Introductionp. xix
Part 1
1 Creations and Originsp. 3
2 Coyote and Friends: An Experiment in Interpretive Bricolagep. 25
3 The Poetry and Drama of Healing: The Iroquoian Condolence Ritual and the Navajo Night Chantp. 47
Part 2
4 From Mythic to Fictive in a Nez Perce Orpheus Mythp. 69
5 "The Hunter Who Had an Elk for a Guardian Spirit," and the Ecological Imaginationp. 81
6 The Wife Who Goes Out like a Man, Comes Back as a Hero: The Art of Two Oregon Indian Narrativesp. 96
7 Uncursing the Misbegotten in a Tillamook Incest Storyp. 115
8 Genderic and Racial Appropriation in Victoria Howard's "The Honorable Milt"p. 139
Part 3
9 Simon Fraser's Canoe; or, Capsizing into Mythp. 159
10 Fish-Hawk and Other Heroesp. 170
11 Retroactive Prophecy in Western Indian Narrativep. 194
12 The Bible in Western Indian Mythologyp. 208
13 Ti-Jean and the Seven-headed Dragon: Instances of Native American Assimilation of European Folklorep. 222
14 Francis La Flesche's "The Song of Flying Crow" and the Limits of Ethnographyp. 237
15 Tradition and Individual Talents in Modern Indian Writingp. 252
Notesp. 267
Bibliographyp. 311
Indexp. 325