Essay on Southeastern Native American Literature

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Southeastern Native American Literature


Native American literature from the Southeastern United States is deeply rooted in the oral traditions of the various tribes that have historically called that region home. While the tribes most integrally associated with the Southeastern U.S. in the American popular mind--the FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole)--were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) from their ancestral territories in the American South, descendents of those tribes have created compelling literary works that have kept alive their tribal identities and histories by incorporating traditional themes and narrative elements. While reflecting profound awareness of
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Additional books have showcased the storytelling traditions of other tribes, including Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians, edited by Bill Grantham (2002); Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907, edited by Theda Perdue (1993); and Native American Legends: Southeastern Legends--Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations, edited by George E. Lankford and W. K. McNeil (1987).

Members of the Five Civilized Tribes were at the vanguard of Native American literature during the nineteenth century. The earliest work of fiction in English by an author of native descent is generally thought to be Poor Sarah, or Religion Exemplified in the Life and Death of an Indian Woman, a 1823 pamphlet probably written by Elias Boudinot (ca. 1804-1839). A formally educated member of the Cherokee tribe who was born in Georgia, Boudinot was the editor of the bilingual newspaper The Cherokee Phoenix, the first periodical published by Native Americans. Poor Sarah was not commercial fiction--it was a propagandistic tract from a religious advocate. The first overtly commercial work of fiction written by a Native American was Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854), a best-selling novel set in California during…