November 10, 2009

White writer tackles boarding schools

Novel explores the legacy of Indian boarding schools

By Euan KerrBemidji-based writer Kent Nerburn sometimes struggles to categorize what he creates. He writes fictional narratives based on the real stories of people he has met on reservations in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Nerburn's latest book, "The Wolf at Twilight," explores the sad legacy of the Indian boarding schools.A summary of the book:In Nerburn's novel a mysterious message left under the wiper of a car sends off a character called Kent Nerburn on a road trip. He agrees to help his friend Dan, now aged and increasingly infirm, track down his sister who he last saw 80 years before in one of the schools.

There are moments of wry humor in the story, but it's a tough trip fraught with meaning. In the book Nerburn complains to one of Dan's friends about how the old man insists on going through history.
Nerburn's outsider perspective:Nerburn acknowledges he can be walking on thin ice as a white man writing Indian stories.

"It's a very fair criticism and challenge and I keep it in my mind constantly," he said. Kent Nerburn said though through his experiences and friendships he believes he has something to offer.

"I heard someone the other day on NPR talking about how black culture is always depicted from the outside, and white culture is always depicted from the inside," he said. "What I can do is go to the inside and say 'This is how it looks. This is what I see.' And I can use the skills that I have as an observer and a writer to the stories I see and the stories I hear, and the things that I see, with a compassionate eye and hopefully a solid voice."

Kent Nerburn said he knows some people within the native community dislike what he has done. However he has received ringing endorsements from Winona LaDuke and even Leonard Peltier--which he also realizes will rub other people the wrong way.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

Below:  "Kent Nerburn writes both fiction and non-fiction. For his latest book however he takes real stories he has heard on reservations around the Upper Midwest and hangs them on a fictional narrative." (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"Nerburn's latest book, "The Wolf at Twilight,"

A shrewd name. Mistaken Twihards might be likely to make it soar up the Amazon sales rank list.