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Holy Road: Paula Gunn Allen (1939 - 2008)

By Lauralee Brown and Mary Churchill -- Special to Today

Paula Gunn Allen, award-winning American Indian scholar and poet, passed away at her home in Fort Bragg, Calif., May 29 after a prolonged illness. She was 68 years old. Family and friends surrounded her at the time of her passing.

Born Paula Marie Francis, in 1939, she grew up on the Cubero land grant in New Mexico, the daughter of former New Mexico Lt. Gov. Elias Lee Francis and Ethel Francis. Both her father's Lebanese and her mother's Laguna Pueblo-Metis-Scot heritages shaped her critical and creative vision.

For the last 30 years, Allen was a foremost voice in Native literature and the study of American literature. She was also a founding mother of the contemporary women's spirituality movement. Her most recent work, ''Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat,'' received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. ''The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions,'' a collection of critical essays, is a cornerstone in the study of American Indian culture and gender. Her edited anthology, ''Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs,'' laid the foundation for the study of Native American literature.

She promoted and popularized the works of other Native writers through the anthologies ''Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1974 - 1995''; ''Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1900 - 1970''; and ''Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women,'' which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. She also authored ''Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border-Crossing, Loose Canons''; ''As Long as the Rivers Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans''; and ''Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman's Sourcebook.''

A prolific writer, Allen published six volumes of poetry: ''Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962 - 1995''; ''Skins and Bones''; ''Wyrds''; ''Shadow Country''; ''A Cannon Between My Knees''; and ''Blind Lion.'' Her latest book of poetry, ''America the Beautiful,'' is forthcoming from West End Press. ''The Woman Who Owned the Shadows,'' a novel, was published in 1983. Her creative and critical work has been widely anthologized.

Allen received her bachelor's degree in English in 1966 and her MFA in creative writing in 1968, both from the University of Oregon. She earned her Ph.D. in American studies in 1976 from the University of New Mexico. She taught at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, the College of San Mateo, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University and the University of New Mexico - Albuquerque prior to joining the faculty at the University of California - Berkeley, where she became a professor of Native American and ethnic studies. In 1999, she retired from the University of California - Los Angeles as a professor of English, creative writing and American Indian studies.

Allen received many awards, including postdoctoral fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ford Foundation-National Research Council, the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas, the Susan Koppelman Award from the Popular and American Culture associations, the Native American Prize for Literature and, most recently, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship.

She is survived by a daughter, Lauralee Brown (Roland Hannes); a son, Suleiman Allen (Millisa Russell); two granddaughters; two sisters; and one brother. Two sons, Fuad Ali Allen and Eugene John Brown, preceded her in death.