My Top 20 Favourite Works Published by Aboriginal Authors (So Far)


Richard Van Camp

If you know me, you know how much I adore aboriginal literature. It is an honour for me to share with you some of my favourite works by aboriginal authors (the ones I have read anyhow!) across Turtle Island.

So buckle up and enjoy!

  1. Winter in the Blood by James Welch. Welch's nameless narrator explores the theme of distance in this novel as he spirit-walks through life and women as he mourns the loss of his father, brother and soul.

  2. Not Vanishing by Chrystos. This collection of poetry explores themes of violence and sexual passion while impacting the reader with devastating beauty.

  3. Winterkill and River Song by Craig Lesley. This two-part novel series is one I would have followed forever. Make sure to read Winterkill first.

  4. The Grass Dancer by Susan Power. This novel follows her characters through their matrilineal lineage from a time almost forgotten to the present.

  5. Arctic Dreams and Nightmares by Alootook Ipellie. Shamanism and sexuality all rolled into one. A landmark and trailbreaker for Inuit Literature for the world to behold.

  6. There is My People Sleeping by Sarian Stump. This illustrated epic poem is magic, pure and simple. Somebody buy the rights to this out-of-print classic and get it out to our communities!

  7. Skins by Adrian C. Louis. This novel is a confession told from the inside out. It's honest and brutal- -a tough read but worth it.

  8. The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie. This collection of short stories is Sherman Alexie at his finest. I felt weightless as I read this and, really, anything can happen at anytime to any of his characters anywhere. Themes of loss and survival are braided together with Sherman's special blend of humour and tragedy.

  9. Where the Rivers Join by Beckylane. A haunting story told through many voices of incest, ritual abuse and the perseverance of the human spirit.

  10. Thunder Through My Veins by Gregory Scofield. This painfully honest memoir shares the triumphs and challenges of Metis poet and playwright, Gregory Scofield, as he comes to know his voice as a writer and his sexuality.

  11. Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie. A novel about the devastating after effects of the residential schools of the Northwest Territories braided with a love story. See Richard's review of this book.

  12. Crazywater: Native Voices on Addiction and Recovery by Brian Maracle. The first quote in the Introduction says it all. It's a quote from Skenando, Oneida Chief c. 1800: "Drink no firewater of the white man. It makes you mice for the white men who are cats. Many a meal they have eaten of you." This masterpiece of hundreds of first-person-accounts on how alcohol, solvent abuse and drugs have robbed so many lives of absolutely everything reaffirmed for me why I don't drink, smoke or do drugs.

  13. Somewhere in this Inferno by Chris Bose. Possibly the most original writing I have read in the past few years. Chris Bose is as wise as Bukowski and as ferocious as Steven Jessie Bernstein at their peak and all rolled into one. Chris Bose will inspire millions to look at their lives and give their heads a shake at what great little puppets most of us have become. This is Adbusters and No Logo the Indian Way!

  14. Bear Bones and Feathers
  15. by Louise Halfe. Louise Halfe's poetry is proof that poetry is half dream and half spirit language that only certain poets can hear and share. It's like Louise can inhale the darkness and exhale light on the page.
  16. My Heart is a Stray Bullet by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. Kateri writes the best damn love poems that I have ever read. Her themes of identity and hope are arrows of light that'll nail your heart to the sky forever.

  17. Prairie Fire: First Voices, First Words (Volume 22, No. 3, Autumn, 2001, Edited by Thomas King). This is the one anthology I return to time and time again. Thomas King has done a magnificent job of gathering 54 aboriginal authors who put their most fascinating work forward. There's something in this collection that's both haunting and mysterious and that's the writing I love the most.

For parents and educators looking for gentle reads for their children, may I suggest:

  1. Will's Garden by Lee Maracle. What I love most about this novel is the author invites you into her Nation's home and invites you to visit each room at your leisure. You get to hear the hopes, dreams, laughter and history of her people expressed in the laugh and worry lines on the faces of Will's parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces and ancestors. I can't remember a family in any book that I felt so privileged to spend time with as Will's. I love the love stories in here. Very romantic. I have meditated non-stop on the insight one of the men provides in this novel on what sacrifices parents have to make when they do have children and how lovers can become strangers when they become parents. I think this is Lee's finest work yet.

  2. Little Voice by Ruby Slipperjack. What a joy to read! The story follows "Ray", a young Ojibwa woman growing up in Ontario from the summer of 1978 to the summer of 1982. As in all of Ruby's novels, I felt innocent reading it. She brought me back to the bush, and she reminded me just how rich our traditional people are on the land and with each other. See Richard's review of this book.

  3. Stones and Switches by Lorne Simon. This Micmac novel takes place during Canada's depression and introduces the reader to some of the most memorable characters ever written. Mimi, Megwadesk, Skoltch and Talon will walk with you long after you put this book down, and there's a love story in here that'll make you ache for years. What I also love about Lorne's book is the plot: evil medicine versus pure love. Stones and Switches was supposed to be a trilogy. Sadly, our dear friend Lorne passed away before the other two books were published. Please read this incredible tale and find out why Lorne Simon (1960-1994) was beyond his years as a master storyteller and a prince of princes…

  4. The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday. This celebration of Kiowa myth and truth puts me in a trance every time I read it. In the Preface, N. Scott Momaday writes: "The three distinct voices in The Way to Rainy Mountain was a collaboration. It is dedicated to my parents, whose spirit informs it. My mother lived easily and well in the element of language. Her inspiration was indispensable to the expression of my own spirit. My father told the stories, he drew the illustrations, and he was true to the journey. He was a man who bore dreams to me and to the world." Need I say more? It's timeless and pure. I love it!

Hey! I would like to know what your Top 20 List is…

© 2002 Richard Van Camp

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