We’re halfway through this strange and tumultuous year, and things are different than they were in January. But books have not gone anywhere, and as always, the voices of Indigenous authors are an indispensable part of resistance, resilience, and joy in a world that continues to live out the consequences of ongoing colonialist mindsets and policies. Here are 13 of the most anticipated Indigenous-authored books for the second half of this year.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta (Apalech Clan, north Queensland AUS) (Harper One, out now)
Published in Australia last year, Sand Talk just got its U.S. release in May. The title refers to an Aboriginal mode of storytelling and knowledge-sharing that involves drawing images on the ground. Yunkaporta writes with reverence and acuity about Indigenous ways of thinking, and how it can and must uproot the dominant global paradigms around the environment, education, and power and money. It’s a stunning and vital work.
Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound, second edition, translated and edited by Vi Hilbert (Upper Skagit) (University of Washington Press, out now)
Vi Hilbert, who passed away in 2008, was an Upper Skagit tribal elder who grew up with the oral storytelling and social patterns of the Lushootseed culture and language. She also co-wrote the Lushootseed Dictionary and taught language classes at the University of Washington. In this beautiful collection, thirty three of these stories are written in English, accompanied by original drawings by her late son, Ron Hilbert/Coy, and a foreword by her granddaughter, Jill La Pointe.
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt (Driftpile Cree Nation)
(Two Dollar Radio, 7/14)
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s poetry collections, NDN Coping Mechanisms and This Wound Is a World, are two of the best books ever to be published, in this writer’s opinion. His deft use of language to render queerness, indigeneity, and the corporeal into ravishing works of poetic art translates beautifully into nonfiction prose. This essay collection is slim but immersive, a work of joy and reckoning, and of imagining a better world.
Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford (Cherokee)
(Grove Press, 7/14)
This debut novel, told in interlocking stories, follows four generations of Cherokee women mainly through the 70’s and 80’s. In 1974, Justine is growing up in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in a family headed by her mother, Lula. When her father abandons the family, she turns to religion. In the 80’s, Justine and her daughter Reney set out to try and start a stable life in Texas, untethering Reney from her family. Engrossing and well-paced, this is a compelling story about women, mothers and daughters, the land, and family.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
(Gallery/Saga Press, 7/14)
Following four American Indian men who were childhood friends when a disturbing event changed the course of their lives. As adults, hunted by a strange entity that wants revenge, the four must grapple with the culture they tried to leave behind. Part horror story, part gripping novel, this book explores masculinity and tradition in a spellbinding narrative that might keep you up at night.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (U.S. release) by Alicia Elliott (Haudenosaunee)
(Melville House, 8/4)
An instant must-read when it was released in Canada last year, this book is finally getting its U.S. release. The essays here deeply and incisively examine the pervasive, insidious, and lasting effects of colonialism in North America. The intergenerational trauma inflicted by genocide, residential schools, and forced assimilation ripples ever outward. Elliott’s prose is beautiful, and her insight into the deeply personal and its interconnectedness with the wider world makes this book readable, infuriating, and essential.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Sicangu Lakota Nation)
In this lightning-fast-moving debut novel, Virgil Wounded Horse is a hit man of sorts, hired to deliver justice when it is not paid by the American legal system or the Rosebud Indian Reservation tribal council. But when heroin finds its way into the reservation, Virgil and his ex-girlfriend, enlisted by her politician father, leave the reservation to follow a lead into a cartel, and try to stop it. Winter Counts is not simply a crime novel, but a character-driven story about the meaning of justice in a colonialist country. This is well worth picking up even if you’re not usually a crime fiction reader.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry by Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation)
(WW Norton, 8/25)
U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is back, this time with one of the most vital anthologies to be published in North America. Featuring over 160 poets from almost 100 Indigenous nations, this book is the most historically comprehensive anthology of Indigenous poets. The book has five sections, each representing a geographical area, and each is laid out chronologically, from the oldest poems (as far back as the 17th century) to the newest work from emerging poets. When The Light brings Indigenous history and present life to the fore using poetry, an is a beautiful act of storytelling.
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead (Peguis First Nation)
(Arsenal Pulp Press, September)
Joshua Whitehead, whose debut novel Jonny Appleseed won a Lambda Literary Award last year, now brings an extremely exciting fiction anthology into the world. The stories here are futurist, brimming with the dynamic and urgent imaginations of 2SQ (Two-Spirit and queer) Indigenous writers, many of whom are emerging. They involve resistance camps, bioengineered rats, trees in space, and new ways of thinking about space and time. Another more-than-welcome addition to the 2SQ canon.
What the Chickadee Knows: Poems in Anishinaabemowin and English by Margaret Noodin (Anishinaabe descent)
(Wayne State University Press, September)
In this bilingual collection, Margaret Noodin brings to the page poems that were first conceived in Anishinaabemowin and then translated to English, juxtaposed on mirroring pages. Noodin is part of the movement to revitalize Indigenous languages, and this approach is one way to decenter English at inception. Moving from poems that observe the natural world to celebrating social connection to profound grief, this collection is a beautiful, thoughtful read.
The Range Eternal by Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe)
(reprint; October, with an Ojibwe version coming in 2022)
Celebrated and prolific Anishinaabe author Louise Erdrich, whose latest novel The Night Watchman was released in March of this year, has a reprint of a beautiful children’s book coming this fall. In The Range Eternal, a young girl is warmed, in body and heart, by the woodstove where her mother makes soup, her hands thaw from the cold winter, and the flames tell stories. The illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are beautiful, and the book is even getting an Ojibwe language version in 2022.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo heritage)
This adult fantasy novel from award-winning author Rebecca Roanhorse marks the start of a new trilogy from the author, and that itself is exciting. Set in the Pre-Columbian Americas, this book starts when the winter solstice is set to coincide with a solar eclipse. In the holy city of Tova, the Sun Priest prophesizes that this will unbalance the world. Meanwhile, a ship captain named Xiala is bound for Tova with only one passenger on board. The story unfolds with gorgeous prose and the world is totally immersive; Roanhorse brings her storytelling prowess in droves to this one.
Anakú Iwachá: Yakama Legends and Stories, edited by Virginia R. Beavert (Yakama), Michelle M. Jacob (Yakama), Joana W. Jansen
(University of Washington Press, January 2021)
Technically this comes out next year, but it’s just over the line, so it is getting included here. Another bilingual collection, in Ichishkíin and English, this collection of legends from across the Columbia River plateau brings together stories and perspectives from the framework of Yakama ways of seeing and being in the world. The new edition is expanded with four additional legends, more artwork, and updated glossary, and annotations, as well as essays about the history of collecting, transcribing, and translating these stories. It’s a wonderful resource that is also a joy to read.