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Gerald Vizenor: On the Cutting Edge, as Usual

Gerald Vizenor—author, critic, journalist and documentarian—is a literary power unto himself. He tackles deep, uncomfortable Native subjects and draws the reader into a world where evil really does exist. It is this capacity for confrontation that propels Vizenor to the cutting edge of the academic world and makes his work the subject of serious study.


Gerald Vizenor: Texts and Contexts (University of New Mexico Press, 2010) is just such a study, a collection of essays about Vizenor’s work. Editors Deborah L. Madsen and A. Robert Lee have grouped the essays into two parts. “Texts” offers pieces that analyze specific Vizenor works, while “Contexts” features comparative readings that place Vizenor’s output within the framework of other Native writers and his own literary and historical background. The essays cover everything from Vizenor’s account of the sexual abuse of Native altar boys to his Anishinaabe version of Trickster and the true human field of character. A third section contains a brief history of the Constitution of the White Earth Nation, the constitution itself, and an interview of the author by Lee.

For the average reader, admittedly, the result is pretty dry stuff; if you’re not a Vizenor aficionado, you’ll probably be confused. Besides discussing Vizenor’s own works, many of the contributors examine critiques of those works as well. So if you are a Vizenor neophyte, beware. Those who would rather read his work may want to start with something like Shrouds of White Earth.

However, the collection will appeal to the academic or advanced reader seeking a fuller understanding of Vizenor. Contributors hail from academic institutions all over the world, and each writer supplements his or her essay with an appropriate bibliography. This not only lends credence to the work but also serves as a jumping-off point for others who may be in search of Vizenor’s wisdom.

While not for everyone, Texts and Contexts is a valuable offering for those who love the work of a unique voice in Native literature.