Gerald Robert Vizenor (born 1934) is an
Anishinaabe writer and
scholar, and an enrolled member of the
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White
Earth Reservation. Vizenor also taught for many years at the
University of California, Berkeley, where he was Director of Native
American Studies. With more than 30 books published, Vizenor is
Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and
American Studies at the University of New Mexico.
1 Early life
3 Academic career
7.5 Edited anthology
7.6 Edited collections of essays
8 See also
10 Further reading
10.1 Monographs and essay collections on Vizenor's work
10.5 Essays on Vizenor's work
11 External links
Gerald Vizenor was born to a mother who was Danish American and a
father who was Anishinaabe. When he was less than two years old, his
father was murdered in a homicide that was never solved. He was
raised by his mother and paternal
Anishinaabe grandmother, along with
a succession of paternal uncles, in
Minneapolis and on the White Earth
Reservation. His mother's partner acted as his informal stepfather and
primary caregiver. Following that man's death in 1950, Vizenor lied
about his age and at 15 entered the
Minnesota National Guard.
Honorably discharged before his unit went to Korea, Vizenor joined the
army two years later. He served with occupation forces in Japan, as
that nation was still struggling to recover from the vast destruction
of the nuclear attacks that ended World War II. During this period, he
began to learn about the Japanese poetic form of haiku. Later he wrote
Hiroshima Bugi (2004), what he called his "kabuki novel."[citation
Returning to the United States in 1953, Vizenor took advantage of G.I.
Bill funding to complete his undergraduate degree at New York
University. He followed this with postgraduate study at Harvard
University and the University of Minnesota, where he also undertook
graduate teaching. After returning to Minnesota, he married and had a
After teaching at the university, between 1964 and 1968, Vizenor
worked as a community advocate. During this time he served as director
of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis,
Minnesota, which brought him into close contact with numerous Native
Americans from reservations. Many found it difficult to live in the
city, and struggled against white racism and cheap alcohol.
This period is the subject of his short-story collection Wordarrows:
Whites and Indians in the New Fur Trade, some of which was inspired by
his experiences. His work with homeless and poor Natives may have been
the reason Vizenor looked askance at the emerging American Indian
Movement (AIM), seeing radical leaders such as
Dennis Banks and Clyde
Bellecourt as being more concerned with personal publicity than the
"real" problems faced by American Indians.
Vizenor began working as a staff reporter on the
quickly rising to become an editorial contributor. He investigated the
case of Thomas James White Hawk, convicted of murder. Vizenor's
perspective allowed him to raise difficult questions about the nature
of justice in a society dealing with colonized peoples. His work was
credited with enabling White Hawk to have his death sentence
During this period Vizenor coined the phrase “cultural
schizophrenia” to describe the state of mind of many Natives, who he
considered torn between Native and White cultures. His investigative
journalism into American Indian activists revealed drug dealing,
personal failings, and failures of leadership among some of the
movement’s leaders. As a consequence of his articles, he was
personally threatened.
Beginning teaching full-time at Lake Forest College, Illinois, Vizenor
was appointed to set up and run the Native
American Studies program at
Bemidji State University. Later he became professor of American Indian
Studies at the University of
Minnesota in Minneapolis
(1978–1985). He later satirized the academic world in some of his
fiction. During this time he also served as a visiting professor at
Tianjin University, China.
Vizenor worked and taught for four years at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, where he was also Provost of Kresge College.
He had an endowed chair for one year at the University of Oklahoma.
Vizenor next was appointed as a professor at the University of
California, Berkeley. He is professor of
American Studies at the
University of New Mexico.
Vizenor was influenced by the French post-modernist intellectuals,
Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard.
Vizenor has published collections of haiku, poems, plays, short
stories, translations of traditional tribal tales, screenplays, and
many novels. He has been named as a member of the literary movement
which Kenneth Lincoln dubbed the Native American Renaissance, a
flourishing of literature and art beginning in the mid-20th
His first novel, Darkness in Saint Louis
Bearheart (1978), later
revised as Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990), brought him
immediate attention. One of the few science fiction novels written by
a Native American, it portrayed a procession of tribal pilgrims
through a surreal, dystopian landscape of an America suffering an
environmental apocalypse brought on by white greed for oil.
Simultaneously postmodern and deeply traditional, inspired by N. Scott
Momaday's pioneering works, Vizenor drew on poststructuralist theory
Anishinaabe trickster stories to portray a world in the grip of
what he called “terminal creeds” – belief systems incapable of
change. In one of the most noted and controversial
passages, the character Belladonna Darwin Winter-Catcher proclaims
that Natives are better and purer than whites. She is killed with
poisoned cookies, purportedly for her promoting racial
In Vizenor's subsequent novels, he used a shifting and overlapping
cast of trickster figures in settings ranging from China to White
Earth Reservation to the University of Kent. Frequently quoting
European philosophers such as Umberto Eco,
Roland Barthes and Jean
Baudrillard, Vizenor has written a fiction that is allusive, humorous
and playful, but deeply serious in portraying the state of Native
America. He has refused to romanticize the figure of the Native and
opposes continued oppression. Vizenor's major theme is that the idea
of “Indian” as one people was an "invention" of European invaders.
Before Columbus arrived, no one defined Indian as other; there were
only the indigenous peoples of various tribes (such as
Dakota). (They defined "other" among themselves,
often divided by languages and associated cultures.)
To deconstruct the idea of "Indianness," Vizenor uses strategies of
irony and Barthesian jouissance. For instance, in the lead-up to
Columbus Day in 1992, he published the novel, The Heirs of Columbus,
in which Columbus is portrayed as a Mayan Indian trying to return home
to Central America. In Hotline Healers, he claims that Richard Nixon,
the American president who he said did more for American Indians than
any other in restoring sovereign rights and supporting
self-determination, did so as part of a deal in exchange for
traditional “virtual reality” technology.
Vizenor has written several studies of Native American affairs,
Manifest Manners and Fugitive Poses. He has edited several
collections of academic work related to Native American writing. He is
the founder-editor of the American Indian Literature and Critical
Studies series at the
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma Press, which has provided
an important venue for critical work on and by Native writers.
In his own studies, Vizenor has worked to deconstruct the semiotics of
Indianness. His title, Fugitive Poses is derived from Vizenor's
assertion that the term Indian is a social-science construction that
replaces native peoples, who become absent or "fugitive".
Similarly, the term, "manifest manners," refers to the continued
legacy of Manifest Destiny. He wrote that native peoples were still
bound by "narratives of dominance" that replace them with
"Indians". In place of a unified “Indian” signifier, he
suggests that Native peoples be referred to by specific tribal
identities, to be properly placed in their particular tribal context,
just as most Americans would distinguish among the French, Poles,
Germans and English.
In order to cover more general Native studies, Vizenor suggests using
the term, "postindian," to convey that the disparate, heterogeneous
tribal cultures were "unified" and could be addressed en masse only by
Euro-American attitudes and actions towards them. He has also promoted
the neologism of “survivance”, a cross between the words
"survival" and "resistance." he uses it to replace “survival” in
terms of tribal peoples. He coined it to imply a process rather than
an end, as the ways of tribal peoples continue to change (as do the
ways of others). He also notes that the survival of tribal peoples as
distinct from majority cultures, is based in resistance.[citation
He continues to criticize both Native American nationalism and
Euro-American colonial attitudes.
Both his fiction and academic studies have contributed to his being
honored as a major
Anishinaabe and American intellectual and writer.
1983, Film-in-the-Cities Award, Sundance Festival
1984, Best American Indian Film, San Francisco Film Festival
1986, New York Fiction Collective Award
American Book Award for
1988, New York Fiction Collective Prize
1989, Artists Fellowship in Literature, California Arts Council, 1989
1990, PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award
1996, PEN Excellence Award
2001, Lifetime Achievement Award, Native Writers' Circle of the
2005, Distinguished Achievement Award, Western Literature Association
2005, Distinguished Minnesotan, Bemidji State University
MELUS Lifetime Achievement Award, 2011.
American Book Award for Shrouds of White Earth (2011).
Shrouds of White Earth (SUNY P)
Father Meme (U of New Mexico P)
Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57 (Nebraska UP)
Chancers (Oklahoma UP)
Hotline Healers: An Almost Browne Novel (Wesleyan UP)
Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (
Minnesota UP) (revised version of
Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart)
The Heirs of Columbus (Wesleyan UP)
Griever: An American Monkey King in China (
The Trickster of Liberty: Tribal Heirs to a Wild Baronage (Emergent
Earthdivers: Tribal Narratives on Mixed Descent (
Landfill Meditation: Crossblood Stories (Wesleyan UP)
Dead Voices: Natural Agonies In The New World (U. of Oklahoma Press)
Chair of Tears (U of Nebraska Press)
Poems Born in the Wind (1960)
The Old Park Sleepers (1961)
South of the Painted Stones (1963)
Summer in the Spring:
Anishinaabe Lyric Poems and Stories (Oklahoma
Slight Abrasions: A Dialogue in Haiku, with Jerome Downes (Nodin
Water Striders (Moving Parts Press)
Two Wings the Butterfly (privately printed)
Seventeen Chirps (Nodin Press)
Raising the Moon Vines (Nodin Press)
Matsushima : Pine Island (Nodin Press, 1984)
Empty Swings (
Haiku in English Series) (Nodin Press)
Bear Island: The War At Sugar Point (
Minnesota UP, 2006)
Almost Ashore (Salt Publishing, 2006)
Quasi en terra (Valencia, Denes, 2009), transl. Carme Manuel Cuenca
Harold of Orange (1984)
Thomas James Whitehawk: Investigative Narrative in the Trial, Capital
Punishment, and Commutation of the Death Sentence of Thomas James
Whitehawk (Four Winds Press, 1968)
Touchwood : A Collection of Ojibway Prose (Many Minnesotas
Project, No 3) (New Rivers Press)
The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories (
The Everlasting Sky; New Voices from the People Named the Chippewa
Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of
Survivance (Wesleyan UP)
(later renamed Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian
Crossbloods; Bone Courts, Bingo, and Other Reports (
Wordarrows: Indians and Whites in the New Fur Trade (
Shadow Distance: A
Gerald Vizenor Reader (Wesleyan UP)
Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence
(Nebraska UP, 1998)
Native Liberty: Natural Reason and Cultural
Survivance (Nebraska UP,
Native American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology (1997)
Edited collections of essays
Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian
Literatures (Oklahoma UP)
Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence (Nebraska UP, 2008)
Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors (Minnesota
Postindian Conversations, with A. Robert Lee (Nebraska UP)
List of thinkers influenced by deconstruction
This article incorporates text from Nativewiki under the
^ Vizenor, Interior Landscapes, pp. 28–32.
^ University of
Minnesota Department of American Indian Studies
^ "The Chair of Tears", in Earthdivers, pp 3–29
^ Kenneth Lincoln,
Native American Renaissance (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1983).
^ David Greenham, "Review of Fugitive Poses," in Journal of American
Studies 33.3 (1999), pp. 555–556. Accessed via JSTOR, February 19,
Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee, Postindian Conversations, U of
Nebraska Press, 2003, pp.82–84.
^ Kimberly M. Blaeser, Gerald Vizenor: Writing in Oral Tradition, U of
Oklahoma Press, 1996, pp. 55–57.
^ a b c d "Gerald Vizenor", Encyclopedia of American Indian
Literature, ed. by Jennifer McClinton-Temple and Alan R. Velie, Facts
on File, 2007, pp. 376–378
^ Vizenor Award Announcement, word .doc, accessed January 15, 2011.
American Book Award announcement Archived September 11, 2011, at the
^ see this cover at Google Books, accessed February 19, 2011.
Monographs and essay collections on Vizenor's work
Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition, by Kimberley Blaeser
Loosening the Seams: Interpretations of Gerald Vizenor, by A. Robert
Four American Indian Literary Masters: N. Scott Momaday, James Welch,
Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko and Gerald Vizenor, by Alan R. Velie
Gerald Vizenor: Profils Americains 20, ed. Simone Pellerin. Presses
Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2007. (In English)
Gerald Vizenor: Texts and Contexts, ed. A. Robert Lee and Deborah
Understanding Gerald Vizenor, by Deborah Madsen, 2010.
The Poetry and Poetics of Gerald Vizenor, by Deborah Madsen, 2012.
Transmotion: Journal of Vizenor Studies and Indigenous Studies, ed.
David J. Carlson, James Mackay, David Stirrup and Laura Adams Weaver.
Visit Teepee Town: Native Writings After the Detours, Diane Glancy,
Mark Nowak (Editors), Coffeehouse Press.
Stories Migrating Home: Anishnaabe Prose, Kimberly Blaeser (Editor),
Loonfeather Press: Wisconsin
Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short Stories, Craig
Lesley, Katheryn Stavrakis (Editor) Dell Books
Earth Song, Sky Spirit: Short Stories of the Contemporary Native
American Experience, Clifford E. Trafzer (Editor)
Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature, Simon
J. Ortiz (editor), Navajo Community College Press
Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: An Anthology of Poetry by
American Indian Writers, Joseph Bruchac (Editor), Greenfield Review
Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion, Janet
Witalec, Visible Ink Press.
Words in the Blood: Contemporary Indian Writers of North and South
Jamake Highwater (Editor), New American Library.
Blue Dawn, Red Earth: New Native American Storytellers, Clifford E.
Trafzer (Editor), Anchor Books
The Lightning Within: An Anthology of Contemporary American Indian
Fiction, Edited and with an Introduction by Alan R. Velie, University
of Nebraska Press.
American Indian Literature: An Anthology, Alan R. Velie, University of
Harper's Anthology of 20th century Native American Poetry, Duane
Niatum (Editor) HarperCollins
Minnesota Writers, Monico D. Degrazia (Editor), Nodin
After Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology, Larry McCaffery
(Editor), Penguin USA
The New Native American Novel: Works in Progress, Mary Bartlett
University of New Mexico
University of New Mexico Press.
The Writer's Notebook, Howard Junker, HarperCollins.
Listening to Ourselves: More Stories from 'the Sound of Writing', Alan
Cheuse, Caroline Marshall (Editor), Anchor Books.
Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation,
Larry McCaffery (Editor),
Fc2/Black Ice Books
Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology: Selections from the
American Book Awards 1980–1990, Ishmael Reed, Kathryn Trueblood,
Shawn Wong (Editor), W W Norton & Co.
Without Discovery: A Native Response to Columbus (Turning Point
Series), Ray Gonzalez (Editor), Broken Moon Press.
A Gathering of Flowers: Stories About Being Young in America, Joyce
Carol Thomas (Editor), Harpercollins Juvenile Books.
American Short Fiction, Spring 1991 by Laura Furman, University of
An Illuminated History of the Future by Curtis White (Editor),
Fc2/Black Ice Books.
Fiction International, San Diego State University Press.
An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands,
Alfred Arteaga (Editor), Duke University Press.
Contemporary Archaeology in Theory, (Social Archaeology), Robert
Preucel (Editor), Ian Hodder (Editor), Blackwell Pub.
Encyclopedia of North American Indians, by Frederick E. Hoxie
Houghton Mifflin Co.
A Companion to American Thought (Blackwell Reference), Richard
Wightman Fox (Editor), James T. Kloppenberg (Editor), Blackwell Pub.
Culture and the Imagination, Proceedings of the Third Stuttgart
Seminar on Cultural Studies, Verlag Für Wissenschaft und Forschung,
Stuttgart, Germany, 1995
From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America,
Ronald Takaki (Editor), Oxford University Press.
“Constitutional Narratives: A Conversation with Gerald Vizenor,”
Gerald Vizenor and James Mackay. In Centering Anishinaabeg Studies:
Understanding the World through Stories, ed. Jill Doerfler,
Niiganwewidam James Sinclair and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, (East
Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013)
Postindian Conversations, Gerald Robert Vizenor, A. Robert Lee,
University of Nebraska Press.
Excavating Voices: Listening to Photographs of Native Americans,
Michael Katakis (Editor), University of Pennsylvania Museum Press.
Mythic Rage and Laughter: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor, Dallas
Miller, 1995, Studies in American Indian Literatures, 7, 77, 1995
Survival This Way: Interviews With American Indian Poets, Joseph
Bruchac III (Editor), (Sun Tracks Books, No 15) University of Arizona
Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, Laura Coltelli,
University of Nebraska Press.
Contemporary Authors. Autobiography Series (Vol 22. Issn 0748-0636),
American Contradictions: Interviews With Nine American Writers,
Wolfgang Binder (Editor), Helmbrecht Breinig (Editor), Wesleyan
First published in German as Facing America, Multikulturelle Literatur
def heutigen USA in Texten und Interviews, Rotpunktverlag, Leipzig,
I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers,
Brian Swann, Arnold Krupat, Brompton Books Corp.
Essays on Vizenor's work
Contemporary Authors: Biography – Vizenor, Gerald Robert (1934–),
Other Words: American Indian Literature, Law, and Culture, (American
Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series), Jace Weaver, Univ.
Subverting the Dominant Paradigm: Gerald Vizenor's Trickster
Discourse, Kerstin Schmidt, Studies in American Indian Literatures, 7,
65, 1995 Spring.
That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native
American Community, Jace Weaver, Oxford University Press.
Text as trickster: postmodern language games in Gerald Vizenor's
'Bearheart.' (Maskers and Tricksters), An article from: MELUS, by
Gerald Vizenor and his 'Heirs of Columbus': a postmodern quest for
more discourse. An article from: The American Indian Quarterly by
Barry E Laga
Monkey kings and mojo: postmodern ethnic humor in Kingston, Reed, and
Vizenor, An article from: MELUS, by John Lowe
“Vizenorian Jurisprudence: Legal Interventions, Narrative Shadows
and Other Interpretive Possibilities,” (Critical Essay) by Juana
Maria Rodriguez in Loosening the Seams: Interpretations of Gerald
Vizenor, edited by A. Robert Lee, 2000.
Postmodern bears in the texts of
Gerald Vizenor (Critical Essay), An
article from: MELUS, by Nora Baker Barry
"Bad Breath": Gerald Vizenor's Lacanian fable. (Critical Essay), An
article from: Studies in Short Fiction by Linda Lizut Helstern
Native American Writers of the United States, (Dictionary of Literary
Biography, V. 175), Kenneth M. Roemer (Editor), Gale Research.
Woodland word warrior: An introduction to the works of Gerald Vizenor,
A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.
“Gerald Vizenor’s Shadow Plays: Narrative Meditations and
Multiplicities of Power” (Critical Essay) by Juana Maria Rodriguez
in SAIL (Studies in American Indian Literatures), (October 1, 1993):
Partial Recall: With Essays on Photographs of Native North Americans,
Lucy Lippard (Editor)
Native American Autobiography: An Anthology (Wisconsin Studies in
American Autobiography), Arnold Krupat (Editor), University of
Growing Up in Minnesota: Ten Writers Remember Their Childhoods,
Chester G. Anderson, University of
Inheriting the Land: Contemporary Voices from the Midwest, Mark Vinz
(Editor), Thom Tammaro (Editor), University of
Gerald Vizenor, a special edition, Louis Owens (Editor), Studies in
American Indian Literatures, Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 1997,
"Interior Dancers": Transformations of Vizenor's Poetic Vision,
Kimberly M. Blaeser
The Ceded Landscape of Gerald Vizenor's Fiction, Chris LaLonde
Blue Smoke and Mirrors: Griever's Buddhist Heart, Linda Lizut Helstern
Liberation and Identity: Bearing the Heart of The Heirship Chronicles,
Liminal Landscapes: Motion, Perspective and Place in Gerald Vizenor's
Fiction, Bradley John Monsma
Waiting for Ishi: Gerald Vizenor's Ishi and the Wood Ducks and Samuel
Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Elvira Pulitano
Doubling in Gerald Vizenor's Bearheart: The Pilgrimage Strategy or
Bunyan Revisited, Bernadette Rigel-Cellard
Legal and Tribal Identity in Gerald Vizenor's The Heirs of Columbus,
Stephen D. Osborne
Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel, (American
Indian Literature and Critical Studies, Vol 3), Louis Owens,
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma Press.
Mediation in Contemporary Native American Fiction (American Indian
Literature and Critical Studies, Vol 15), James Ruppert, University of
Native American Perspectives on Literature and History, (American
Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series, Vol 19) by Alan R.
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma Press.
(Articles by Juana Maria Rodriguez, Alan R. Velie, Robert Alan Warrior
Kimberley Blaeser address Vizenor's writings.)
The Turn to the Native, by Arnold Krupat, University of Nebraska
Cultural Difference and the Literary Text: Pluralism and the Limits of
Authenticity in North American Literatures, Edited by Winfried
Siemerling and Katrin Schwenk
Buried Roots and Indestructible Seeds: The Survival of American Indian
Life in Story, History, and Spirit, Martin Zanger (Editor), Mark A.
Lindquist, University of Wisconsin Press.
Sacred Trusts: Essays on Stewardship and Responsibility, Michael
Katakis, Russell Chatham (Illustrator), Mercury House.
Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from
Prophecy to Present, 1492–1992, Peter Nabokov, Penguin USA
Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, Russell
Ferguson, Martha Gever, Mit Press.
Listening to Native Americans: Making Peace with the Past for the
Future, John Barry Ryan, in Listening: Journal of Religion and
Culture, Vol. 31, No.1 Winter 1996 pp. 24–36.
Transformation in Progress by Annalee Newitz and Jillian Sandell, in
Bad Subjects, an online journal.
Spring Wind Rising: The American Indian Novel and the Problem of
History, Stripes, James D., A dissertation.
McGraw-Hill Introduction to Literature, Gilbert H. Muller, McGraw
Ways in: Approaches to Reading and Writing About Literature, Gilbert
H. Muller, John A. Williams, McGraw Hill Text.
The Harper American Literature, Volume 1; 2nd Edition, Donald McQuade,
Robert Atwan, Martha Banta, Justin Kaplan, Harpercollins College Div.
Works by or about
Gerald Vizenor in libraries (
Vizenor biography at
Minnesota Historical Society site
Salt Publishing website for Almost Ashore, includes video footage,
excerpts and biography
Gerald Vizenor, Native American Authors Project
Interview with “The Berkleyan”
Talk at University of
"Genocide Tribunals: Native Human Rights and Survivance" - University
of Minnesota, October 10, 2006
Stone Babies from Weber Studies
Gerald Vizenor in Dialogue with A. Robert Lee, Weber Studies
ISNI: 0000 0001 1480 0808
BNF: cb12123740x (data)