Jamake Highwater Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Published under the name J. Marks, the early works of Jamake Highwater include Rock and Other Four Letter Words (1968) and Mick Jagger: The Singer, Not the Song (1973). Moonsong Lullaby (1981), relating the importance of the moon in American Indian culture, is a tale for young children. Highwater also published books on Native American painting, artists, and history through art as well as on Native American dance and ceremonies. Other book-length publications include five editions of Europe Under Twenty-five: A Young Person’s Guide (1971) and Indian America: A Cultural and Travel Guide (1975). This latter book, the first Fodor’s guide on American Indians, is important as not only a guide for tourists but also a study of the history and cultures of American Indians. Highwater also wrote short fiction, magazine articles, and scripts for television shows.

Highwater published the nonfiction work The Language of Vision: Meditations on Myth and Metaphor in 1994. Songs for the Seasons (1995) is a children’s book in which Highwater tells a tale of two red-tailed hawks. He interprets the lifestyle changes facing the hawks during different seasons. Illustrations in the book are by Sandra Speidel. The Mythology of Transgression: Homosexuality as Metaphor (1997) is a weighty essay focused on the homophobia of Western culture.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jamake Highwater was recognized for a variety of talents. Novelist John Gardner said of Highwater that “he is one of the purest writers at work—a clean, clear voice.” In addition to writing books and articles, Highwater hosted, wrote, and narrated Songs of the Thunderbird (1979) for the Public Broadcasting Service. In the field of music, Highwater’s interests were diverse and included rock, American Indian, and classical music; he was a contributing editor of Stereo Review and classical music editor of the Soho Weekly News.

Highwater was called “a writer of exceptional vision and power” by Anaïs Nin. He was named a consultant to the New York State Council on the Arts, and at one time he served on the art task panel of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. He also was named an honorary citizen of Oklahoma.

Among the honors that Highwater received, one of the most important to him personally was awarded at the Blackfeet Reserve in Alberta, Canada. Ed Calf Robe, elder of the Blood Reserve of Blackfeet, gave Highwater the name Piitai Sahkomaapii, which means Eagle Son. This honor, Calf Robe stated, was given because Highwater “soars highest and catches many truths which he carries to many lands.” In spite of Highwater’s genuine talents and achievements, after the mid-1980’s he was viewed less favorably by some critics because his long-standing claim of American Indian ancestry was found to be essentially insupportable.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, Phoebe-Lou. Review of Song of the Earth, by Jamake Highwater. The Atlantic Monthly 240 (March, 1977): 117. Adams’s short review of this book’s American Indian paintings and the commentary that accompanies them is somewhat condescending toward contemporary American Indian art. She mentions several remarks by Buckbear Bosin that she says indicate a reluctance on the part of Native American artists to acknowledge white culture, an approach that Adams finds less than realistic.

Churchill, Ward. Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema, and the Colonization of the American Indians. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1992. An intriguing exposé of the business of pretending to be American Indian. Highwater receives ample attention in the book, and Churchill disputes his claim of North American Indian heritage.

Grimes, Ronald L. “To Hear the Eagles Cry: Contemporary Themes in Native American Spirituality.” The American Indian Quarterly 20 (June 22, 1996): 433-451. This lengthy multiple-participant discussion focuses on educating American Indians in religious precepts. Highwater serves as a source for several of the concepts discussed in the debate.

Katz, Jane, ed. This Song Remembers: Self-Portraits of Native Americans in the Arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Katz’s work includes essays from many different American Indian artists who are active in the visual arts, poetry, literature, and dance. Highwater’s self-portrait centers on the importance of myth and Indian culture to his life and art.

Lee, Michael. Review of Kill Hole, by Jamake Highwater. National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 1993, p. 38. Lee presents a perceptive critique of Highwater’s 1992 novel.

Stott, Jon C. “Narrative Expectations and Textual Misreadings: Jamake Highwater’s Anpao Analyzed and Reanalyzed.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 18 (Fall, 1985): 93-105. Highwater’s award-winning book Anpao is given a thorough critical analysis.