by Linda Rodriguez
I have now edited seven anthologies. They have gathered together poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from a wide variety of writers. My seventh anthology, Unpapered: Writers Consider Native Identity and Cultural Belonging, my first with creative nonfiction, publishes today.
This anthology began with an idea that sprang up in my mind after a conversation over coffee with another writer at a national writers' conference in 2011, so it has had the longest parturition of any of my anthologies. This project has suffered through a major loss of grant funding, the dissolution of its original publisher, a global pandemic, and my own physical injuries and illnesses leading to disability. I am actually amazed that it has managed to become a reality.
According to the catalog and jacket copy (which I must admit, in the spirit of transparency, is based on copy that I wrote):
"Unpapered is a collection of personal narratives by Indigenous writers exploring the meaning and limits of Native American identity beyond its legal margins. Native heritage is neither simple nor always clearly documented, and citizenship is a legal and political matter of sovereign nations determined by such criteria as blood quantum, tribal rolls, or community involvement. Those who claim a Native cultural identity often have family stories of tenuous ties dating back several generations. Given that tribal enrollment was part of a string of government programs and agreements calculated to quantify and dismiss Native populations, many writers who identify culturally and are recognized as Native Americans do not hold tribal citizenship.
"With essays by Trevino Brings Plenty, Deborah Miranda, Steve Russell, and Kimberly Wieser, among others, Unpapered charts how current exclusionary tactics began as a response to “pretendians”—non-indigenous people assuming a Native identity for job benefits—and have expanded to an intense patrolling of identity that divides Native communities and has resulted in attacks on peoples’ professional, spiritual, emotional, and physical states. An essential addition to Native discourse, Unpapered shows how social and political ideologies have created barriers for Native people truthfully claiming identities while simultaneously upholding stereotypes."
What that pretty academic copy doesn't tell you is that Native identity is one of the most fiery political hot potatoes around. The flames have been building ever since the first exchange of insults between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren, and they have flared up until they threaten to burn Indian Country alive. Many of you may have read articles in major newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the New York Times dealing with this issue in the last couple of years, but for those of us in the thick of it, the battle has been going on daily and building in violence for years now.
My hope for this anthology is to open up the conversation and to present a wide swath of Native experience. So I went to a group of talented Native poets and fiction writers and asked them to tell me who they were and how they got to be who they were. Some of the contributors are card-carrying citizens of their sovereign Native nations. Some of them have varying degrees of lineage and cultural connection to those same sovereign Native nations. Some of them take a hard line against anyone who is not a card-carrying citizen, and some of them don't. All of them show what it means to be a Native American in today's modern world. I like to think of this book as a diamond or some other kind of gem, that has been cut and polished, so that all of its many facets capture and reflect the light to illuminate the topic and make it easier for all of us to humanly understand it.
As you can imagine, shepherding this book throughout the entire process has been an exhilarating and ennervating experience. But it has come together, all the dissonant voices have blended into a powerful choral music. It's beautiful, and I love it. Let me take a few moments to breathe in the satisfaction of bringing all of this together successfully. Before it hits the public sphere and the controversy begins with me in the hotspot and a target on my back. Before the inevitable error or typo on one of the pages that managed to make it through the painstaking editing and copy editing and proofreading hits the eye of our staunchest critic. Before someone begins the eternal complaint that they should have been included in this anthology and it is the gravest of injustices that they were not. Before all of these things happen–that I know will happen–let me hold the beautiful book in my hand and think how happy I am with the way it all came together.
Linda Rodriguez has published 13 books. Her co-edited anthology, Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging, is available now. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular classes. Her novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and books of poetry— Dark Sister, Heart's Migration, and Skin Hunger—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, Latina Book Club Best Book, Midwest Voices & Visions, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Rodriguez is past chair of AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and member of Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.