Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598
Thomas King was born to Robert Elvin King, a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, and Katheryn Konsonlas King, a Greek American. His father left the family when Thomas was five, and he and his brother, Christopher, were raised by their mother in Roseville, California. Upon graduation from Roseville High School, King worked at odd jobs, including those of ambulance driver and gambling croupier. He attended Sacramento State College from 1961 to 1962 and Sierra Junior College from 1962 to 1964, after which he worked his way to Australia and New Zealand and was employed there as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 1967 and took a job as a draftsman at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. The following year he enrolled at California State College, Chico, because his mother had gone there. He graduated in 1970, with a B.A. in English. That year he married Kristine Adams. They had a son, Christian, in 1971.
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At that point, King embarked upon a series of academic jobs, beginning as a counselor for American Indian students at the University of Utah and soon moving up to director of the new Native Studies Department. While working at Utah, he obtained an M.A. in English from his undergraduate alma mater in Chico. In 1973 he moved on to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where he was an associate dean for student services.
In 1977 King returned to the University of Utah, to work as coordinator of the History of the Indians of the Americas project. In 1979 he moved to Canada to take a position as chair of the Native Studies Department and remained there for the next ten years. His marriage ended in 1981. In 1986 he received a doctorate in English and American studies from the University of Utah; his dissertation was titled “Inventing the Indian: White Images, Native Oral Traditions, and Contemporary Native Writers.” Also in the 1980’s he and his partner, Helen Hoy, had two children: Benjamin Hoy (born in 1985) and Elizabeth King (1988).
In 1987 King began publishing short stories in magazines and anthologies. In 1989 he returned to the United States, taking a position as associate professor of American and Native studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In 1990 King published his first novel, Medicine River, set at a Blackfoot reservation in Alberta, Canada, and edited All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction. In 1992 King published his first children’s book, A Coyote Columbus Story; it won the Canadian Governor-General’s Award for that year.
In 1993-1994 he took a leave of absence for the academic year to work as a story editor for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, where he wrote the teleplay for the adaptation of his novel Medicine River. Also in 1993, King published his best-known novel, the satirical Green Grass, Running Water, and a short-story collection, One Good Story, That One. In 1995 he returned to Canada with his partner and children. He took an academic appointment at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Thomas King is an important figure in American Indian literature. He once noted with some amusement that, because he lives and teaches in Canada, he is often called a Canadian Native writer, though he was born in the United States and those of his tribe, the Cherokee, are not native to Canada. In his work, his primary subject is cultural clash: The American Indians, with their traditional culture and communal values, are sneered at and ignored, if not simply conquered, by the white invaders, but they triumph through wit, cleverness, and resourcefulness (often represented in King’s fiction by the figure of the trickster in American Indian lore, Coyote).
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
Although he is now a Canadian citizen, Thomas King was born and raised in Northern California. His mother was of German and Greek descent was his father was Cherokee. He earned his PhD from the University of Utah and has served in numerous academic posts in both the United States and Canada. At the time of Green Grass, Running Water’s publication, King served as the chair of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Minnesota. His most recent academic position is teaching Native Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph (Ontario). At Guelph, King made an unsuccessful bid for a legislative seat in the Canadian government.
As a writer, King has focused on the Native American experience, starting with his first novel, Medicine River (published in 1990). Medicine River was so successful that it was adapted into a made-for-television film starring Academy-Award-nominated actor Graham Greene. King then edited an anthology of Native literature, All My Relations, and also wrote the book’s introduction and one of its stories. King received back-to-back Governor General’s Award nominations in 1992 and 1993. The former was for a children’s book he wrote titled A Coyote Columbus Story, and the latter was for Green Grass, Running Water. Green Grass, Running Water remains King’s best known work and has become a staple of literary courses. Biographical elements are neatly woven into the novel, in which two of the main characters are academics. One of them teaches Native American studies in Alberta, where King himself also taught. The novel also focuses on Blackfoot culture, which King learned about during his tenure in Alberta.
King’s next literary project was a collection of his own short stories, One Good Story, That One. King’s mastery of the short form gained him exposure in a different medium: radio. King’s program, The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, was a serial with connections to the places and characters featured in Green Grass, Running Water. More novels, short stories, and poetry followed, and King’s name continues to be synonymous with the interrogation of Native American society. Although King has sometimes described his work as pessimistic, its very existence has widened the platform of expression for Native American writing.