Author Profile

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

An original voice in postmodern literature, Native American author Gerald Vizenor is a brilliant novelist, poet, and essayist, as well as an influential critic. He has received the Josephine Miles PEN award for Interior Landscapes, 1990, the Illinois State University/Fiction Collective Prize, 1986, and the American Book Award in 1988 for Griever: An American Monkey King in China.

Vizenor believes that Native American imagination foreshadows many postmodern literary strategies regarding identity. He uses the concept of “survivance” to denote the trickster’s playful attitude that undercuts domination-victimization oppositions and produces new worldviews. The trickster uses stories and humor to tease out contradictions between good and evil in the world. The Heirs of Columbus announces, “I am not a victim of Columbus,” and uses trickster storytelling to revise the history of relations between whites and tribal peoples. Always on the move, the trickster destabilizes “pure” identities. Tribal identities pass through tribal stories.

Vizenor, who claims a mixed Native American and European American heritage, belongs to the first generation of his family born off the reservation. When he was a child, his father was murdered, and his mother left him with foster families. At eighteen, he enlisted in the Army and went to Japan. In Interior Landscapes, Vizenor describes his discovery of Japanese haiku as a liberating, eye-opening experience important to his development as a writer.

Besides being a writer, Vizenor worked as a social worker, a mental hospital orderly, a camp counselor, and a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, where he was a staunch advocate for human rights. He established the American Indian Employment Center in Minneapolis and directed the first Native American studies program at Bemidji State University.