Emily Pauline Johnson achieved fame with her poems (Flint and Feather, 1912) and short fiction (Moccasin Maker, 1913). Two other novelists of the early twentieth century are Mourning Dove (Cristal Quintasket) and John Joseph Mathews. John Oskison’s Brothers Three (1935) depicts Oklahoma memorably. Salish Indian D’Arcy McNickle published The Surrounded in 1936; the novel is based on life on a Montana reservation. Humorists Alexander Posey and Will Rogers satirized politics local and international. New Mexico Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning House Made of Dawn (1968) is often cited as the work that transformed Indian literature. In this novel and in autobiographical fiction and verse, Momaday’s explorations of the themes of personal identity, of feelings of alienation, of the blending of cultures, of a sense of place, of the sacred nature of words, and of the complexities of ethnic identity became central issues among Native American writers of the later twentieth century, including Paula Gunn Allen, Peter Blue Cloud, Simon J. Ortiz, Lynn Riggs, Leslie Marmon Silko, Highway Tomson, Gerald Vizenor, Frank Waters, and James Welch, among others.
A key theme of the late twentieth century Indian literary renaissance is that language is an affirmation of survival. For example, Welch’s use of existential and surrealistic imagery explores the absurdity of reservation life and the importance of context for establishing identity. These ideas are explored in Welch’s Riding the Earth Boy Forty: Poems (1971) and Winter in the Blood (1974). Silko and Allen explore multiculturalism in Indian life as a source of pain and of strength; Silko’s Ceremony (1977) is an example. Vizenor’s work offers his call for a “literature of survivance” to counter what he calls “manifest manners.” He points to the modern complications of national, tribal, and multicultural ways of reading Native American literature.
Much debate concerns Native American writing that seeks to express an unromanticized affinity for cherished traditions. Some Native American writers seek to bring Native American traditions into the broader American consciousness; other writers advocate separation from the dominant culture, wishing to keep Indian traditions private and isolated. Separatists strongly criticize white authors who write about Indian values, rituals, and religious symbols. For some Indian poets, the clash over the forced use of English and cultural imperialism is not resolvable. White authors who deal with Indian subjects, notably Tony Hillerman, Barbara Kingsolver, and Michael Dorris, receive varying degrees of acceptance by Indian readers.