Linda (Henderson) Hogan was born on July 16, 1947, in Denver, Colorado, the daughter of Charles and Cleona (Bower) Henderson. Her mother was a white woman from Nebraska, but Hogan identified more strongly with her Chickasaw father and his family, who lived in rural south-central Oklahoma. She and her parents frequently visited Oklahoma; in one interview, the poet stated that Oklahoma felt like home to her, a place where she was loved, “cared for, wanted.” She was nevertheless a solitary child, choosing to spend much of her time alone outdoors.
Hogan’s grandfather was a bronco rider, and her grandmother, descended from a nineteenth century head of the Chickasaw nation, was what Hogan calls “a caretaker of the people.” During the 1930’s, her grandparents lost their allotment land, which they had farmed, to foreclosure. To support themselves, her grandfather worked as a janitor for a church, and her grandmother sold eggs in town. This family experience helped Hogan to understand how American society blames victims for their own poverty and hunger, a common topic in her work. From her grandparents, Hogan also learned that there was an alternative to her working-class city lifestyle: She learned, she has said, “better ways to love, to take care of life,” to appreciate the beauty of nature as well as how to survive poverty and hardship.
During Hogan’s childhood, little value was placed on formal education, because her American Indian family had different values from those of the dominant white society. Although she did not read much as a child, she grew up in a strong oral tradition, encouraged by her father, her uncle, and her grandmother, all of whom were storytellers. As Hogan said in one interview, “I wasn’t interested in literature, but I did listen to stories, and I still do. I listened carefully and acutely, and I heard what was behind words, and voices.” Many of her poems are based on these family stories or reflect her childhood experiences.
The first time Hogan tried to write a poem was in a high-school writing class. She was unfamiliar with modern poetry, so, she has recalled, she “looked up words in the dictionary, using words like ’cherubim’ and ’seraphim.’” After Hogan was accused of plagiarism by her teacher, her mother testified that the work was original. Yet Hogan did not write another poem until she was in her late twenties, and she abandoned the use of traditional rhyme and set meter.
While in her late twenties, Hogan worked in Washington, D.C., as a teacher’s aide with orthopedically disabled children. During her lunch hours, she would sit in the nearby woods and write. This early work helped Hogan to reconcile her rural, working-class background with her suburban lifestyle. She wrote about the children with whom she worked, about “what it was like to be beautiful souls inside bodies that didn’t work.” She felt that this writing helped her to make contact with her own life in a fundamental way.
In 1975, Hogan went back to school and took a creative writing class. At this time, she was working on a long poem that she eventually organized into her first book, Calling Myself Home (1978). Before this work was completed, she attended the University of Colorado, where she encountered two encouraging writing instructors. Hogan earned her master’s degree in creative writing in 1978 from the University of Colorado, but she has said that she really became a writer when “I began to look for my own ideas, for critical work in books, and rejected what I heard in class.”
Hogan then worked as poet-in-residence from 1980 to 1984 for the Colorado and Oklahoma arts councils and as assistant professor at Colorado College from 1982 to 1984. In 1984, she was appointed associate professor of American and American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota. Yet it was her American Indian and working-class experiences (as a nurse’s aide, dental assistant, waitress, homemaker, secretary,...
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