Elizabeth Cook-Lynn Biography


(Native Americans: Historical Biographies)

Article abstract: Elizabeth Cook-Lynn is an author, poet, scholar, educator, and journal editor.

Born Elizabeth Irving, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn grew up on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, a scenic landscape of grasslands, rolling hills, and bluffs near the eastern shore of the Missouri River. She comes from a distinguished Dakota Indian family that includes linguists, writers, and tribal political leaders.

The federal government's past policies of forceful assimilation of Native Americans separated many tribal people from their cultural roots. However, from her traditional Dakota family and reservation community, Cook-Lynn absorbed and retained important elements of her indigenous heritage, such as the language and old stories. As she grew up, she was angered by the lack of Native American content in the materials she read in school and made the cause of indigenous cultural survival and expression her life's work.

In 1952, Cook-Lynn received a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from South Dakota State College (now a university). After nineteen years devoted to marriage, child rearing, and her work as a journalist, editor, and teacher, she obtained a master's degree in education from the University of South Dakota in 1971. From 1972 until her retirement with emeritus status in 1993, he served as an associate professor of English and Native American studies at Eastern Washington University. Meanwhile,...

(The entire section is 530 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The work of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn recounts the historical displacement of indigenous tribes in the Great Plains as well as their resultant struggles to preserve a heritage and maintain an identity in a colonized land. She is the daughter and granddaughter of Sioux linguists and politicians, careers that would influence her own as a writer of social criticism. Her great-grandfather compiled an early Dacotah dictionary, and her grandmother worked as a bilingual journalist. Both her father and grandfather were active in the tribal council on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, where she spent her childhood. In 1952 Cook-Lynn received her undergraduate degree in English and journalism at South Dakota State College. In 1971 she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of South Dakota. She attended Stanford University as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1976 and was engaged in doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska in 1977-1978.

Her first book, Then Badger Said This, is an illustrated collection of poems, songs, and stories celebrating American Indian traditions and lore. Seek the House of Relatives, a collection of poems, followed; it offered a darker perspective on social forces that work against the continuity and visibility of indigenous cultures, while still praising their oral traditions and spiritual heritage. Cook-Lynn cited her anger at the exclusion of American Indian history and experience from school curriculums nationwide as a prime reason she began to write. She viewed her writing as a tool for survival and as a marker of existence, both hers and that of her...

(The entire section is 670 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. “Acts of Survival: An Interview with Elizabeth Cook-Lynn.” Interview by Jamie Sullivan. Bloomsbury Review 13 (January/February, 1993): 1, 6.

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. “As a Dakotah Woman.” In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, edited by Joseph Bruchae III. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990.

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. “You May Consider Speaking About Your Art . . .” In I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, edited by Brian Swan and Arnold Krupat. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.