My, by happenstance, themed, Pulitzer Prize reading journey

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The order of books I read is often a product of availability at the library. I reserve items that sometimes take a long time to come. Every once in awhile, a theme happens to emerge. The three books I’ve read most recently are: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson, and The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, so I have been filled with new knowledge as to the ways of the indigenous people of this land. I’m glad I happened to listen to the nonfiction Braiding Sweetgrass first, because it informed my reading of the books that came after. I simply would not have had the same experience of reading the novel The Seed Keeper, in particular, without having read Kimmerer. Wilson, who is Dakhóta, in her author’s note, says this about Braiding Sweetgrass: “One of the best contemporary books for understanding an indigenous relationship with plants…” Her note also explains that The Seed Keeper was inspired by a story she heard while participating in the Dakhóta people who were forcibly removed from Minnesota in 1863, in the aftermath of the US-Dakhóta War. Seventeen hundred women, children, and elders were marched at gunpoint from the Lower Sioux Agency to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. Wilson’s novel goes back and forth in time through generations of a family, from 1863 to 2002, as we, and Rosalie Iron Wing, herself, discovers her story.

The Seed Keeper is a first novel. The Night Watchman, on the other hand, is sixteenth novel of the venerable author, Louise Erdrich. I have been listening to the audiobook, read by the author, in my car for many weeks (my odometer hasn’t changed much in the past year) and I am two CD’s short of finishing it. Yesterday, the book won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction–another happenstance. The story is inspired by the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gorneau, who worked as a night watchman at a plant and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa. She has spun a masterful world of fiction around the night watchman’s story. I can’t wait to find out what happens…

Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potowatomi Nation, also narrates her audiobook. What a reading voice she has! I wish she could read me to sleep every night. Kimmerer is a scientist, and she pulls together science and the indigenous ways beautifully. I am grateful for having learned about the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. It’s used like an opening prayer (though it’s not a prayer) is used to open every gathering of people–to become one in their gratitude to every aspect of the natural world. There is a repeating litany intoned together as each speaker finishes her or his thanks: “Our minds are one.” I mean, it sends shivers up your sping. Can you imagine this in–oh, I don’t know–Congress?

3 comments on “My, by happenstance, themed, Pulitzer Prize reading journey”

  1. I loved Braiding Sweetgrass. I’ve also either heard Kimmerer speak about moss or read her book, Gathering Moss. I know I originally learned about her via OnBeing. Since you love Kimmerer’s voice, I think you would especially enjoy Krista Tippett’s interview. Your descriptions of the novels sent me to my library website. Both have a waiting list. Since three books I’ve been awaiting are ready for pick-up, more waiting is a good thing.

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  2. Teri, I love this accidental thread you have followed. Inspired reads! Braiding Sweetgrass has been on my list for some time – and thanks to my sister is now in my tsundoku – but not the other two. Will have to add them. : ) Thank you for this moving tribute to these three books. And yes, I am sitting here, right now, trying hard to imagine this powerful Address spoken in Congress. Imagine! Imagine what we might be capable of if this could happen

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