James Welch Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What differences do you find between Indian and mainstream culture? Between nineteenth and twentieth century Indian life?

How does the conflict between traditional and modern ways lead to misunderstandings?

Compare the alienation experienced by James Welch’s characters. Are there any Native American characters who do not display alienation?

What role does prejudice play in Welch’s work?

Considering that Welch began his career as a poet, can you still find examples of lyricism or poetic language in his fiction?

Comment on the significance of landscape in Welch’s writing.

Comment on his use of irony. What effects does it produce?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although his first book was a poetry collection, James Welch is known primarily as a novelist. His five novels, beginning with Winter in the Blood (1974), have garnered considerable praise and critical commentary, and they are frequently taught in Native American literature classes at the college level. His volume of nonfiction, Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians (1994) has also drawn attention as a text on the famous battle written from an American Indian point of view.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

James Welch’s single collection of poems has remained in print for decades; a revised edition won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award in 1976, and in 2004, Penguin published a reprint with an introduction by poet James Tate. In 1978, a special issue of American Indian Quarterly was devoted to essays concerning Welch’s first novel, Winter in the Blood. In 1981, Welch received the Indian Council Fire National Achievement Award and the Montana Governor’s Award. His novel Fools Crow (1986), which recounts events that led up to the Marias River Massacre in 1870, won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1987. In 1994, following the publication of Killing Custer, Welch won the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award and the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. The next year, he was named a Chevalier of the Ordres des Artes et des Lettres by the French cultural ministry. In 1997, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beidler, Peter G., ed. American Indian Quarterly 4 (May, 1978). A symposium on Winter in the Blood for a special edition of American Indian Quarterly; three papers deal with the central character’s alienation, three others discuss the novel’s tone.

Gish, Robert F. “Word Medicine: Storytelling and Magic Realism in James Welch’s Fools Crow.” American Indian Quarterly 14, no. 4 (Fall, 1990). Compares the novel to a Homeric poetic epic.

McFarland, Ronald E. “‘The End’ in James Welch’s Novels.” American Indian Quarterly 17, no. 3 (1993). Looks for the themes in the novels’ endings.

McFarland, Ronald E. Understanding James Welch. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. An introduction to the writer and his work. Includes a thorough bibliography.

McFarland, Ronald E, ed. James Welch. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1986. A collection of critical articles on Welch’s first four books. Of special interest is a 1984 interview in which Welch suggests that his family background inspired aspects of his stories. The collection also includes a chronology of his life and writings.

Nelson, Robert M. Place and Vision: The Function of Landscape in Native American Literature. New York: P. Lang, 1993. Discusses the philosophy of place that emerges from Welch’s depictions of landscape.

Schort, Blanca. Storied Voices in Native American Texts: Harry Robinson, Thomas King, James Welch, and Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Routledge, 2003. Analyzes the oral narrative traditions underlying Welch’s, and others’, work.

Velie, Alan R. “Blackfeet Surrealism: The Poetry of James Welch.” In Four American Indian Literary Masters. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. A critical study of Welch’s single volume of poetry.

Wild, Peter. James Welch. Boise State Western Writers Series. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1983.