Growing Up in Minnesota: Ten Writers Remember Their Childhoods is a collection of regional autobiographical stories, including contributions by Meridel Le Sueur, Harrison E. Salisbury, Keith Gunderson, Robert Bly, and others. Native American author Gerald Vizenor’s story, “I Know What You Mean, Erdupps MacChurbbs: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors,” roughly outlines this prominent writer’s life, beginning with his father’s brutal murder, at age twenty-six, in a downtown Minneapolis alley in 1936. Vizenor is a mixed-blood Ojibwa-Chippewa.
Vizenor’s story progresses through a series of vignettes that describe how powerful people take advantage of the weak. As a boy, he tangles with Mean Nettles, the local bully, gets caught shoplifting, is the victim of a demeaning practical joke, visits a house of prostitution for the first time, and goes squirrel hunting. After his mother leaves his stepfather, Vizenor is beaten by the abusive man. Vizenor leaves home and only returns after careful negotiations that establish him as his stepfather’s equal.
The title character of the story, Erdupps MacChurbbs, is a little woodland person the young Vizenor conjures in his imagination. Vizenor imagines this person in order to escape the violence of powerful people who are dominated by one vision of the world. Erdupps appears at key moments in Vizenor’s life. A trickster from Native American lore, Erdupps uses humor and stories to balance good and evil energies and reinvent the world. At a militant American Indian Movement protest, Erdupps encourages Vizenor to act more like a trickster: “You have given too much thought in your life to the violence of terminal believers! Show more humor and give yourself more time for the little people and compassionate trickery.” Terminal believers are victimizers who dominate others and believe in their own natural superiority.
Through the various pieces of Vizenor’s autobiography, the ironic spirit of the woodland sprite floats between words and dreams in its mission to subvert the logic of terminal believers. For Vizenor, who accepts Erdupps’ advice to act like a trickster, tricksters signal an end to the domination of terminal creeds, which cannot endure humor and play. The trickster imagination becomes a means of survival and control. Vizenor’s trickster autobiography is a way to evade victimization.