Ray Young Bear 19??–
American poet and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Young Bear's career.
One of the best known contemporary Native American writers, Young Bear is highly regarded for verse and prose in which he explores the conflicts arising between his Mesquakie heritage and his identity as a writer. Noting his attempts to recreate the Native American oral tradition, reviewers have praised Young Bear's emphasis on dreams, visions, and traditional Mesquakie songs in his poems. While Young Bear's principle theme is the contemporary Indian's search for identity, he deliberately addresses both Indian and non-Indian readers by writing on two levels—one allows the non-Indian reader to appreciate the imagery and traditions of the Mesquakie people without necessarily understanding their sacred tribal significance; the other level speaks to the Indian reader who recognizes the underlying meaning and can thus identify with Young Bear's thematic project. Young Bear is also one of the few tribal-affiliated writers who speaks and writes in his native language. His two best known and critically acclaimed works are Winter of the Salamander (1980) and Black Eagle Child (1992).
Young Bear was born and raised on the Tama Indian Reservation in Iowa, where his grandmother instructed him in the stories and traditions of his people. In the 1960s he attended college and began his writing career. With his wife Stella Young Bear, he co-founded the Woodland Song and Dance Troupe of Arts Midwest and became an instructor of Native American literature at the University of Iowa.
In Winter of the Salamander Young Bear utilizes various Indian songs, myths, and stories to address the plight of the Native American in contemporary American society. For example, in the poem, "i can still picture the caribou," Young Bear examines how Indians and whites have forgotten their origins, thus rendering meaningless the celebration of their ancient festivals and rites. The poetry of The Invisible Musician (1990) focuses on the present cultural, ethnic, artistic, and racial "invisibility" of Native Americans in American society, as seen in the poem "Wa ta se Na ka mo ni, Viet Nam Memorial." Because of the numerous references to tribal customs and culture, this work includes notes explaining many of Young Bear's allusions. In 1992 Young Bear published Black Eagle Child , an autobiographical novel that took him twenty years to complete. The plot follows the life of Edgar Bearchild and his coming of age. Bearchild leaves the Black Eagle Child Settlement and his best friend, Ted...
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