Jamake Highwater Highwater, Jamake - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jamake Highwater 1942–

(Also writes under pseudonym J Marks) American novelist, biographer, playwright, journalist, and nonfiction writer. Highwater, the son of a Blackfoot and a Cherokee Indian, is noted for his authentic presentations of Amerindian culture to a young adult audience. Highwater holds degrees in music and anthropology, and both areas have served as subjects for his books. Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey is generally considered his most successful work. It has been compared to Homer's Odyssey for the way in which it blends oral tradition with the exciting adventures of a young man. In Song from the Earth Highwater explores the Indian conception of great art as art which contains "good spirit" as opposed to "beauty." In a like manner, he presents the Indian view of dance in Dance: Ritual of Experience. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)

A picture-text book à la the fantastically popular "The Medium Is the Massage," [Rock and Other Four Letter Words] seems to us to be a far more successful and appropriate use of the wayout layout. At any rate, we think it's groovy; it rocks along with surprises on every page … and reveals the world of rock music with more excitement than one expects to see in a book. The author claims that the format is based on the standard 32-bar rock melody (melody!?!); that the book builds to crescendos and that it is a circle, with no beginning and no end. Yes, well. There are murder mysteries based on chess problems, too, and we don't dig chess. But we dig the Jefferson Airplane, the Who, Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and others, and they are all in this book. (p. 51)

Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the November 11, 1968, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1968 by Xerox Corporation). November 11, 1968.

Alice K. Turner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Mick Jagger"] is a book less about Jagger than about Jagger's vibes. Man, you're supposed to know something about Jagger before you read this book because if you don't, you're lost. Pasticheur Marks has put together bits of Stones' history, running narratives of the Altamont victim approaching his fate and a Holly Woodlawn type waiting for tickets to the big birthday concert, snippet sketches of the '72 tour, long conversations with one David Dalton about the emerging book to hand…. The result is a Marks creation, not a Jagger revelation. Not a bad creation, but Jagger remains the enigmatic figure he has determinedly molded himself to be and this is not his book. (p. 75)

Alice K. Turner, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the June 25, 1973, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1973 by Xerox Corporation), June 25, 1973.

["Fodor's Indian America" is an] admirably written, rich history of each major Amerindian group…. Himself an Indian, [Highwater] quickly journeys down the millennia to the white man's takeover after Columbus. Without bidding for sympathy, he describes the death-ridden Trail of Tears and the crowding on today's reservations. Rather than harp on Manifest Destiny as it seemed to justify the Anglos' land-grab and genocide, he tactfully produces a travel guide …—everything needed for a better appreciation of Indian culture and customs. A guide that follows a different drummer, invaluable for travelers seriously interested in Indian life and lore. (p. 46)

Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the November 11, 1974, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1974 by Xerox Corporation), November 11, 1974.

Phoebe-Lou Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

After a quick summary of things before Columbus, Mr. Highwater makes an extensive survey of recent Indian painting [in Song from the Earth]…. Aesthetic rows liven up the test, which includes interviews with current artists of varied training and principles. The most interesting talker is Blackbear Bosin, who explains, "In my paintings there is absolutely no recognition—none of our defeat. I am describing America as if 1492 simply had never happened." Bosin states plainly an attitude detectable in the work of many of his colleagues; it probably accounts for the strain of prettified romanticism which the Anglo eye perceives…. (p. 117)

Phoebe-Lou Adams, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1977 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), March, 1977.

John C. Ewers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Song from the Earth: American Indian Painting's] greatest weakness lies in its provincial assumption that no Indian painting was important unless it was created by an Indian who was a resident of, or was schooled or taught in the Southwest. No mention is made of Angel De Cora, the most influential Indian artist, teacher, and spokesman for Indian art at the beginning of the century. She was a Winnebago Indian from Nebraska. Forgotten also are the Indian artists who actively contributed to WPA art programs during the depression years. (p. 58)

John C. Ewers, in The American West (copyright © 1977 by the American West Publishing Company, Cupertino, California), March/April, 1977.

One must add [Song from the Earth: American Indian Painting] to Dorothy Dunn's American Indian painting of the Southwest and Plains area … as an antidote to the latter's parochial taste and outlook regarding the uniqueness of "modern" Indian art…. Highwater's terse descriptions and analytic comments on the artworks are close to the actual visual material; his artistic evaluations seem balanced and comparisons made with artists in the Euro-American tradition are thought-provoking. Equally important are his comments on the appearance and revitalization role of native American art as a reaction to white society's destructiveness, acculturation pressures, and socioeconomic influences…. Highwater also takes up contemporary-style painters and the mutual reactions of advocates of the old and new styles…. Highwater is a native American free-lance writer with an excellent grasp, familiarity, and sensitivity to the subject matter…. One warning; Chap. 2 ("The Indian in history") is full of nonsense. The book is an invaluable step toward a better grounded and more detailed study. It can, however, be read with pleasure and scholarly profit…. (pp. 358-59)

Choice (copyright © 1977 by American Library Association), May, 1977.

Lois Sonkiss

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Perhaps] the most valuable portion of [Song from the Earth: American Indian Painting] is the section containing interviews and comments from artists themselves. (p. 66)

For the most part, Highwater's presentation of the artists' comments and works, and the events and attitudes that shaped them, is very sensitive. But the first three chapters of the book are biased, so biased that it takes the reader another three chapters to recognize the depth and validity of the material that follows those introductory chapters. The book is aimed at a non-Indian, awed audience, and the author overemphasizes the "otherness" of Indians, placing Native American and their art on a pedestal, beyond the comprehension of an Anglo critic. In his efforts to ennoble modern Indian artists through a discussion of the attempts of many to preserve or recall their ethnic identity, Highwater refuses to recognize prehistoric American Indian art as a conscious endeavor. Making Indian artists, prehistoric or modern, too different from other artists deprives them of their right to enjoy visual and perceptual games and be creative in the manner recognized in Western society. It is only in his concluding chapter that Highwater loosens up and considers the many different social aspects involved in the production of historic and modern Indian art and the implication these factors have in the works themselves.

Highwater's concise history of prehistoric Indian art contains some misconceptions as well as misinformation…. Forewarned of Highwater's over-ethnic approach to his subject, this history of contemporary American Indian art is as capable as the next. It is the bonus of interviews with many of the artists themselves that sets this book apart. (pp. 66-7)

Lois Sonkiss, in Museum News (copyright 1977 American Assoc. of Museums), May-June, 1977.

Ellen Sisco

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Anpao] takes many of the native American Indian tales and weaves them together into one story—a kind of Odyssey—which relates creation, the beginnings of Death, and even the coming of the White Men.

This book would be a delight to read, especially in the context which the author in his afterword explains; for while [the hero] Anpao journies through many of the customs and tribal rites of many native Americans, he also journies through their histories. This book would be a good introduction to the evolution of oral history—the manner in which the stories are told has captured that oral tradition, even down to sounds and calls of animals. (p. 7)

Ellen Sisco, in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, October, 1977.

[In Anpao: An American Odyssey] Highwater's subtitle, no idle choice, is a measure of his ambition in this ordering of traditional tales and elements around the wanderings of the invented hero Anpao ("the Dawn"). His story parallels Indian history from creation to white domination…. Highwater was warned by fellow Indians, he reports, that whites might not understand such business—but one suspects that it is not the pre-literate world-view with its vision of transformations, etc., but the author's artificial sequencing of separate motifs and tales that makes such serious matters as dying seem totally lacking in consequence. In the end, the character Anpao, through a handy device, lends neither depth nor drama to the material. Nevertheless, Highwater has a firm command of his sources, and this is a serious, craftsmanlike work. (pp. 1053-54)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1977 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), October 1, 1977.

Highwater's spare but evocative prose is a perfect vehicle for the Amerind tribal legends he interweaves in his story of the adventures of the Indian boy Anpao…. Anpao's arduous journey brings him into contact with a myriad of characters who reveal to him the mysteries of his birth and of life and the foibles and frailties of humankind. A vivid, sensitive rendering of the unique Indian concept of all things, certain to conjure up images long after its last page has been completed. (p. 542)

Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1977 by the American Library Association), November 15, 1977.

James A. Norsworthy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Highwater has created an exceptional book of rare beauty and insight [in Anpao]. To say that Highwater did for American Indian culture what Homer did for the people of Ancient Greece may seem astonishing or perhaps overstated, but it is true…. Two of the stories, "The Farting Boy" and "Deer Woman" have elements that may be objectionable to some readers: however, they are presented with such good taste that they are likely to offend no one except those who can't wait to be offended. The moral tone of the stories is by nature Indian and will provide an interesting comparison and contrast to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. (p. 235)

James A. Norsworthy, in Catholic Library World, December, 1977.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like many current books about native Americans, there is a contradiction inherent in [Ritual of the Wind: North American Indian Ceremonies, Music, and Dances]. The photographs, gorgeous and exotic, beckon us, while the text, clumsy and overwritten, warns us constantly that we are invaders and besmirchers of the sacred. Of course, historically, this has been true, but if the sense of violation is so great, one wonders why a book about Indian ceremonialism, aimed primarily at a non-Indian audience, is attempted at all. The book is an eclectic mix, with bits and pieces from many cultures, and that is its strongest point. (p. 102)

Judith McPheron, in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, January 1, 1978; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), January 1, 1978.

Mary M. Burns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With a storyteller's rhythmic cadences, [Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey] chronicles the adventures of Anpao as he persists in his arduous quest for the love of the beautiful Ko-ko-mik-e-is…. Because the oral tradition upon which Anpao's adventures are based includes many diverse elements, the book may be perceived as a unique blending of history and mysticism. These elements range from cosmological stories originating in the multilayered consciousness of a world predating contemporary notions of time and space to tales inspired by relatively recent events, such as the coming of the white man. As noted in the final explanatory chapter, "there is no pan-Indian history, for Indian cultures are far too diversified to accommodate a uniform view of history or to embrace a single cultural hero … the tales of Anpao are selected from a large body of oral history, in much the way that Homer's tales in the Odyssey represent only a fragment of the tales of all the tribes of the Aegean." The author has developed a prose saga which skillfully interweaves various tales into a coherent entity reflective of the Indian's earthy humor as well as of his transcendent view of the universe. A magnificent, long-needed achievement…. (pp. 55-6)

Mary M. Burns, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1978 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), February, 1978.

Ruth M. Stein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Anpao] Highwater spins ancient and more recent tales of Indian tribes, focused around one fictional character, and set as stories-within-a story. A unified structure reflects the unity Native Americans feel with the earth, sky, water and people…. Art, songs, stories, poems, and sayings do justice to a rich and relatively unknown heritage full of adventure, mysticism, and even ribald humor. Though complex in concept, the style of writing brings this within the range of most youngsters. (pp. 213-14)

Ruth M. Stein, in Language Arts (copyright © 1978 by the National Council of Teachers of English), February, 1978.

Jane Yolen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jamake Highwater, of Blackfeet/Cherokee heritage, calls himself the Indian Homer who has written in "Anpao" an American Indian Odyssey. He almost pulls it off.

Anpao, the main character in Highwater's novel, is, in his words, "a fabrication," but the adventures the boy completes on his way to becoming a man are borrowed from the folklore of many American Indian tribes. Indeed, Highwater annotates the novel so that each adventure is set in its originating culture as well as being part of the continuing narrative….

The novel is well written, smooth, pleasing to the eye and ear. But as a novel it is no more than the linking of old tales. The character of Anpao is never developed. His more interesting brother Oapna dies in the first section. Ko-ko-mik-e-is is simply a beautiful and faithful woman, a little like Penelope perhaps, but with none of Penelope's inventive dedication. Folk characters in any culture tend to be types, prototypes who serve the theme of the tale. Highwater has written an extended folktale, not a novel, for his characters never breathe….

I applaud Highwater's effort. His retelling of the tales is fluid and in many instances compelling. The book cries to be read aloud. But it is not a novel. And it is nowhere near as great a narrative as the "Odyssey." (p. 26)

Jane Yolen, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 5, 1978.

Virginia Haviland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Occasionally, not often enough, in the world of young people's books—or anyone's—there appears a timeless work which defies delimiting of audience. Such a book is Anpao, a synthesis of native American folklore….

[Highwater] has woven across the main threads of his legendary hero's quest a significant weft of American Indian mythology, just as Homer in his famous epic of a Greek's journey homeward from Troy introduced tales of supernatural encounters which extended the dangers of that voyage.

None of these tales, says Highwater, is of his own invention, although the words are new, his own. Most exist in many versions, but in his meticulous bibliography of sources he cites at least one book in which each tale can be read in its oral form. Some of these are ancient; some emerged out of experiences after the invasion by white men….

[Not] only the uniqueness and significance of the content make this an enduring book, but also the author's gift for using the poetic, dignified language required of tellers of great epics.

Virginia Haviland, "Tales of the Tribes," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1978, The Washington Post), February 12, 1978, p. G4.

["Dance: The Ritual of Experience"] is a most interesting attempt to analyze dance from a fresh viewpoint, to tear away the superstructure built by years of Western dance conventions and get down to basics. Some may find the idea controversial, but clearly Highwater has important things to say and says them well. (p. 63)

Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 20, 1978, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), March 20, 1978.

N. Scott Momaday

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Many Smokes, Many Moons"-is a general survey which] treats the Americas as a whole. Mr. Highwater writes in his preface: "This book is an effort to make bridges across the vast spaces between Indians and non-Indians and to explore the America of native Americans as it is made visible through Indian art." Actually, the book is not nearly so ambitious as that sentence suggests. The "bridges" are simply brief chronological entries in a calendar of events that mark the experience of American Indians from prehistoric to contemporary times. The book, then, is a kind of clock, the bare outline of an enormous record yet to be set down in writing. As such it is more nearly a reference book than anything else.


(The entire section is 433 words.)

Barbara Newman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Dance: The Ritual of Experience] examines the shifting role of ritual, "a tribal, expressive form of man's relationship to the power of nature," in the development of dance through the ages, with specific attention to its manifestations in ten contemporary dance works…. Despite sometimes haphazard organization, several factual errors, and a distinct bias for the ritual practices of the American Indian, Highwater has made an interesting, if cursory, exploration of an important subject. However, this book seems more an introductory investigation than the fully developed study the topic could easily sustain. (p. 1193)

Barbara Newman, in Library Journal (reprinted...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

Jean F. Mercier

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In a preface to his engrossing and eloquent work [in Many Smokes, Many Moons, Highwater] gives an example of fundamental differences in understanding between native Americans and whites. Subsequent chapters pinpoint historic and cultural events to express the seldom-heard Indian view…. Sad to say, it includes an almost unbroken account of whites' betrayals of a conquered people. (p. 65)

Jean F. Mercier, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 3, 1978, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright 1978 by Xerox Corporation), July 3, 1978.


(The entire section is 252 words.)