The newly opened National Museum of the American Indian has an excellent bookstore and publishing program. One of their first titles is STORIES OF THE PEOPLE: NATIVE AMERICAN VOICES, and it represents six diverse cultures — Northern Plains, Tuscarora, Cherokee, Makah, Quechua, and Western Apache — sharing personal accounts of their origins, the effects of European-American settlement on their communities, and their commitment to preserving cultural values for future generations. This book includes a rich selection of objects chosen by the authors from the Museum: pottery, baskets, textiles, beadwork, and other items highlight the beauty of Native artistic expression and reflects NMAI’s commitment to present Native life and culture through the voices of Native people.

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Celebrating Literature For All

Author brings visibility to "Indian Lit" at National Book Festival
(Editor’s note: The fourth annual National Book Festival on the National Mall drew approximately 85,000 book lovers -- its largest crowd yet -- on Saturday, October 9. Sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by First Lady Laura Bush, the event featured 70 authors who held talks, readings and book signings throughout the day. We asked one of them, independent author and publisher MariJo Moore, to send us a report.

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When I first began writing my novel, The Diamond Doorknob during the seventies, there was no such recourse as Internet research. I depended entirely upon my intuition, experiences, stories I had heard from others, and the spirits of the characters who came to visit me in my dreams. The novel was hard to write for many reasons. Not only the discipline involved, but also the subject matter covered: incest, alcoholism, abuse, suicide, poverty and overcoming racism. Why write a book like this? Because it needed to be written. The setting is in the South, western Tennessee to be exact. Beginning in the 20’s and ending in 1949, the time frame is before I was born, but I felt compelled to write about this era. I realize now it is because modern day people often forget that their parents, grandparents and great grandparents had to deal with the same issues we deal with today. But there was no readily available help then, like there is now -- especially not in the South. I know when I consider the fact that my mother was a young girl before she became my mother; I look at her choices differently.

Why did it take twenty years to complete this novel? I had to grow emotionally, spiritually and learn what forgiveness is all about so that my characters could do the same. I write what I know. I share what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Although the novel is a bit autobiographical, I found it much easier to have fictional characters endure the hardships, revelations, and successes than writing them in first person. Perhaps a way to soften the memories.

Also, in the beginning, I had no idea that I would be the publisher. I had dreams, like most writers here in the South, that my novel would be the NEXT GREAT SOUTHERN NOVEL, that I would have an agent who thought even my typos were genius, and that my manuscript would be auctioned among the echelon of New York publishers. Destiny, in the form of my Cherokee granddaddy, had other ideas.

My granddaddy, who called himself a “full-bloodied” Indian, had passed to Spirit when I was eleven. As a child, I had spent as much time as possible with him, so when he began to visit me in my dreams during the beginning of my writing career, I was not surprised. He gave explicit instructions that I was to write from my Indian point of view, and to not let anyone “whitewash” my writings. So, at his urgings, and my desire to get my name “out there,” I began my own little publishing company.

rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING (typos intended) came to be because I had one credit card (plastic wampum) that had not reached its limit, there was a book at my local library titled How To Self Publish, and my mother has a love of astrology. While trying to decide on a name for my company, my mother called to tell me, “Everything is crazy! The planets are in renegade!” I asked her if she meant retrograde. “Well,” she replied, “they’re going backwards!” Thus, the name was born. And when people ask what my Indian name is, I always smile and answer, “Buy My Books.”

A sense of humor is the most valuable asset to running a small press. My first publication was Crow Quotes, a pocket size book of spiritual aphorisms published on tree-free paper. Two other quote books, a book of poetry and a book of short stories have followed. I have also written as well as edited books for other publishers, but I have stuck to my beliefs of not letting anyone change the true meanings of my writings.

Who would have guessed that just a few hardworking years later, I would be invited as one of seventy-five authors to attend the National Library of Congress Book Festival to read from my novel? In order to be invited, an author has to be the recipient of a literary award or two, and be referred. I have several awards to my credit, so this was no problem. And Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, Assistant Director for Public Programs for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, who is originally from North Carolina, read my novel and referred me to Dr. John Cole, Director, Center for the Book, Library of Congress. I sent in the necessary paperwork and was accepted. It is so wonderful to have others believe in my work, and to know that they appreciate all of my efforts in promoting American Indian literature. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Maynor Scheirbeck.

Consequently, I do not have a publicist, an agent, or even a nationally known distributor, only my determination to make the best of a great occasion. Dealing with the Library of Congress was wonderful. Via email and phone calls, I was constantly kept informed of the festivities, my inclusion in the Fiction and Imagination Category, and other logistics. My bio and photo is on the festival website, and I am delighted to be included with such well-known authors as Barbara Taylor Bradford, and this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Edward P. Jones. Of course, my name was not included in the national press release (I was one of “and others”). But the Washington Post did a full spread during the festival and my bio was right there along with such renowned authors as Peter Straubb and Joyce Carol Oates. However, I noticed rather quickly that I seemed to be the only American Indian publishing company/author involved. Another thing I noticed is that the brochure/poster art did not have an Indigenous person among the obvious other nationalities. Again, I was reminded that so many non-Indians consider Native people as of the past, or as invisible. This made me more determined to make my presence known at the festival.

Structurally, the festival is very sound. I was impressed with the logistics: tents lined up along the National Mall, noticeably designated, and bustling with energy. The festival had much the same ambience as a musical gathering: colorful, exciting, busy atmosphere. And people everywhere! It was enlightening to see so many people interested in meeting authors, buying books and having them autographed!

My first stop was to pick up my identification tag, and meet my escort the Library had assigned to me, Jennifer Manning. An employee of the Library, she was a wonderful woman whose parents lived just over the mountain from me! Her presence was definitely appreciated as she guided me through my day. Ceni Miles, from the recently opened National Museum of the American Indian, introduced my presentation and I was pleased to see so many people in the audience to hear me, especially compared to the lauded success of the other authors.

Afterward, a cheery volunteer drove me in a golf cart to my book-signing table. The local Barnes & Noble was in charge of book sales, and all the books were purchased on site: no books were allowed to be brought in. There was no long line of people waiting for me, like there were in some of the tables next to me. However, I did have some old fans come by to have a book signed, and met many new ones as well. People from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and, of course Virginia, Maryland and DC. One couple told me they make it a yearly event. Book sales though my website have definitely increased since the national exposure.

Basically, the festival draws a lot of people to see well-known authors. The one who seemed to have the largest following was Science Fiction and Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to speak with a lot of the authors, but I did get to wander around the Center for the Book tent and see beautiful displays of the promotion for literature all over the U.S. This was a marvelous push for the expansion of reading. I did convince Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (to what seemed to his disdain) to sign a festival brochure for my son. I approached him in the authors’ tent since I had been told that he would only sign books for fifteen minutes after his reading, not an hour like all other authors were asked to do. Jennifer informed me that all escorts were told not to bother the authors and not to ask for autographs. In other words, the authors were to be treated like gods. Ha! I was just happy to be around so many people who support reading. Perhaps if I had hundreds of people bombarding me, I would have had a different attitude, but I seriously doubt it. I love to meet people who enjoy my books and make all the hard work worthwhile.

Interviewed by NPR during the festival (I instigated the interview), I was asked a similar question I had been asked in a local interview by freelancer Marcianne Miller back in Asheville, N.C.: “Some authors have refused to attend this festival due to the Laura Bush connection. How do you feel about this?” I answered that I am non-partisan and my desire was to promote American Indian literature, as well as my small press, and this was a great opportunity to do so. Of course, Upon learning that I had been accepted, I immediately contacted my mentor, Vine Deloria, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux and author of such well-known books as Red Earth, White Lies, Custer Died for Your Sins, and God is Red, about his participation in the 2002 festival. His advice was that I take this deserved opening to promote our literature and to let people know that we are writing our own stories. I believe that literature is a great balance when it comes to truth, and that if more Indians are writing literature, we stand a chance of not being constantly bombarded with degrading stereotyping and ignorance about who we really are.

Would I attend the festival again if asked? Certainly! Dr. John Cole asked me to help in the planning of future events, to help make sure more Native authors were involved. This was a very significant and important experience for me, and I will definitely be involved in any way to help promote Indigenous literature. Recently, rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING has released PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE INDIANS, written by Joseph A. Dandurand, Kwantlen First Nation from British Columbia. I intend to nominate Joseph to attend next year’s festival (even though publishers pay the expenses). Now, I have to get back to work on the sequel to The Diamond Doorknob, and hope it doesn’t take twenty years to complete!

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MariJo Moore is an author/artist/poet/journalist who owns and operates rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING. Her Cherokee, Irish and Dutch ancestry bring integral meaning to her writings and collages as they stem from dreams, ancestral memories, and the many voices of Spirit. In 1998, MariJo was honored with the prestigious award of North Carolina's Distinguished Woman of the Year in the Arts. She was chosen as one of the top five American Indian writers of the new century by Native Peoples magazine (June/July 2000 issue). The author of several books, and editor of a collection of writings by North Carolina American Indians, her essays, poetry, short stories and commentaries have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, anthologies and journals. She resides in the mountains of western North Carolina and travels widely to present lectures/literary readings and creative writing workshops.