Paula Marie Francis Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Paula Gunn Allen was born in Cubero, New Mexico, in 1939, to Elias Lee Francis, a Lebanese American who had once been lieutenant governor of New Mexico, and Ethel Gunn Francis, a Laguna Sioux-Scottish woman of the Keres Indians, an intensely gynecocratic-centered culture. Allen’s multiethnic (or “breed”) origins are not unusual in the Laguna Pueblo, which consists of a multitude of cultural worlds uniting through mutual desire into a reciprocal tribal whole.

Allen was born in the seventh year of a thirty-year drought and in the first year of the area’s uranium mining. She remembered blocking windows and doors to keep out dust, which at times was so thick that it was difficult to see across a room. Equally vivid were her memories of her stone-walled home, surrounded by white flowers and safely nestled in a hollow, where she would read and listen to her sister play classical music on the family’s upright piano. Both her parents were also musicians, and Allen learned early in life to recognize and value the distinctive rhythms of both music and language in the cultures that nurtured her.

The road by their house fascinated Allen. In one direction, it ran to a city; in another, it ran to a mountain. Yet it also remained there, in her homeland. This road was dominant in Allen’s life and in her writing. Allen sees herself as standing at a crossroads, valuing the mountain (sacred wilderness) more highly than the city (civilization) and measuring civilization in terms of the mountain.

The bicultural alienation that haunted Allen appears to have begun when she was sent to an Albuquerque convent school, where she was taught that all humans are innately hopeless, guilt-ridden sinners and that Indians are worthless savages. In “Easter Sunday: Recollection,” Allen...

(The entire section is 738 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Paula Gunn Allen was born Paula Marie Francis in 1939 in Cubero, New Mexico, and was raised by her mother and grandmother on the Cubero Land Grant, situated between the Laguna and Acoma Pueblo Reservations. The daughter of a Laguna-Sioux-Scottish mother and a Lebanese American father, Allen cultivated her love and appreciation of the myths and lore of her American Indian ancestors and would perpetuate her desire to be a lifelong student of native culture.

Allen began her higher education at Colorado Women’s College, where the work of poet Robert Creeley would have a profound influence on her. She took time off from school to marry and have two children, but the marriage ended in divorce a few years later. She transferred to the University of Oregon, earning a B.A. in English in 1966 and an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1968. At the University of New Mexico, Allen wanted to pursue a doctorate in Native American literature, but the dean informed her that this was not possible as Native American literature was not a canonical genre. Instead, in 1975, Allen received a doctorate in American studies with a concentration on Native American literature.

Following the completion of her doctorate, two divorces, and the birth of three children, Allen began writing from a twentieth century lesbian-feminist perspective. She quickly established herself as a prolific writer and has since been acknowledged as the founder of American Indian literary studies. Seeking to rectify the canonical discrepancies regarding ethnic literature, Allen (after publishing five collections of poetry) turned her focus to the retelling of native myths and to lesbian-feminist literary criticism. In subsequent years, Allen kept working, writing many texts that would become staples in the classroom—providing future generations of students with the types of sources that were unavailable to her during her own education.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paula Gunn Allen’s heritage was, as she once described it, “a mixture of various ethnicities and nationalities,” and her ancestral roots were grounded in both the Laguna Pueblo and Sioux cultures. An American Indian “at heart,” Allen let herself be guided by American Indian traditions in her poetry, fiction, and scholarship.

Allen’s education included a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Mexico, and she held teaching appointments in various academic institutions throughout the South and the West, including San Francisco State University, the University of New Mexico, Fort Lewis College, and the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to teaching, Allen was active as a scholar of American Indian literature, and she produced poems, novels, and essays. Her writing, which reflects her heritage in technique as well as in subject matter, has been praised by reviewers and scholars in such diverse fields as literature, anthropology, and cultural studies. Allen was also the recipient of such prestigious prizes as the Susan Koppelman Award from the Popular and American Culture Associations and the National Prize for Literature.

Although the influence of her American Indian heritage is easily detected in her work, there were other sources behind Allen’s creativity. These influences include such writers as Gertrude Stein, the English Romantic poets, and the Beat poets. The works of Allen’s own contemporaries—among them Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Denise Levertov, and Judy Grahn—also inspired Allen’s creative...

(The entire section is 644 words.)