It’s early in the morning here on our beautiful campus. I’m in my book-lined stereotypically cluttered professorial den prepping for the day. I have a skype interview with students in Hawai’i on my schedule, but forgot to bring a copy of my book to work (normally I keep a copy here but must have taken it home by accident). Luckily, my institution’s brilliant librarians purchase copies of all faculty books, so I type the title into our e-catalog and my book pops right up. That, however, is when my heart falls – no, not falls, but actually plummets: the call number started with an ‘E’ … and I well know what that means. This book is buried in the bowels of the library, in the ethnology/anthropology section. Not only that, but in the CALIFORNIA INDIAN section, where no one on the entire campus except our sole California Indian – me – ever ventures.
This is what my book looks like in the card catalog’s list:
See me? There I am, 20th-21st Century memoirist, poet and writer: accompanied by Stone Age spear and arrow points of California and the Great Basin, Handbook of Indians of California, Indians, missionaries and merchants: the legacy of colonial encounters on the California frontiers and California Archaeology. You might also notice that First families: a photographic history of California Indians by L. Frank and Kim Hogeland, another book from my publisher Heyday, is also consigned to this dungeon (it should be in with photography and/or art). Since Bad Indians is a memoir that also contains poetry, short stories, artwork, photographs as well as some re-purposed ethnographic materials, placing it there with stone age arrowheads and California archaeology pretty much guarantees that it will never cross the path of a creative writing or English student browsing through any of those sections.
The book is, in effect, hidden from sight. None of the Creative Writing Minor students whom I hope will envision me as Mentor/Writer will ever see what is, in my mind at least, my literary masterpiece and a pretty interesting take on the memoir genre as well. They'll see the books of their other professors on those library shelves, but not mine. How does that look? For someone like me - female, Native, lesbian - establishing a professional identity at a university with very few people of color or out professors is a hell of a lot of work. But thanks to a simple number, it’s kind of like my book, and my life as a writer, don’t even exist. Those words “Native American/California Indian” trump everything when it comes to classification of my literary output.
I'm in my office again (the hours spent in this chair would stun you), taking a quick break to read some news from the outside world. What catches my eye?
An article on the “post-racialization revolution” on television’s post-apocalyptic/zombie/futuristic series now in vogue celebrates the more realistic view of society with black, mixed-race, Asian, Latina/o, female leaders (as well as zombies; not too long ago, the zombification of the world was all white, something Key and Peel make fun of in this brilliant skit). The article lists with celebratory acclaim the actors of color, along with scripts that avoid type-casting all villains and zombies as black or Latino/a, which now regularly populate our television screens. Quite a change from even the recent past!
But wait. Did I hear the names of any Native American actors or roles? Nope. Apparently, Indians – who have survived colonization, Missionization, reservations, poor nutrition, bad health care, mind-blowing governmental abuse and a multitude of other metaphorical zombies - will NOT withstand the zombification of America. Even the epic novel World War Z in unabridged audio form (over twelve hours long) – the fascinating, detailed novel by Max Brooks, not the lame movie - features just one Native woman fighter – Lakota, of course - who, of course, dies (she does pick up a turtle, murmur “Mitkuye Oyasin,” in her very brief cameo, however).
We do, of course, have the sci-fi/Western thriller Cowboys and Aliens, with Adam Beach as – oh, wait – the whiteman’s sidekick who, naturally, dies while saving said whiteman. So really, does that even count?
I would be remiss (and embarrassed) if I didn’t mention a great indie film titled The Dead Can’t Dance. Shot in 2009 and released in 2010, the film is about 3 Indian guys who survive a virulent gust of wind that turns everyone else into zombies, but leaves them untouched. Why? Because they’re Native American and have some genetic immunity to the zombie virus. GET IT? Genetic immunity! This is where being left out can be useful, I guess. The meek shall inherit the earth and all that. Or just poetic justice, dude. (What are the chances of this film coming to Lexington's State Theater, I wonder? Or YOUR hometown? Is it even on Netflix??)
Again, I can’t leave you without Cutcha Risling Baldy’s excellent blog post on using a zombie lens to read contemporary Native existence, telling us, “Zombie-pocalypse sounds eerily similar to California Indian history...” She’s brilliant. Watch out for this woman. Cutcha flips the paradigm around to read Indians as Zombies, but making very clear that this is not exactly a good thing.
Sigh. Sometimes being the only Native academic (or, let’s just say it, person) at my academic institution feels a lot like being the last Indian on the planet. Maybe I’m in one of those sci-fi shows and I just don’t know it. W&L is famous for being under a powerful "bubble" that keeps all unpleasantness (poor folks, third-world problems, ugly people) at bay. Could it be the end of the world has already happened and I missed it?
Obviously, my next project needs to be an edited anthology of Native American zombie-apocalypse pieces. Along with all the other projects lined up in my head.
Here's a sort-of-happy-ending to part of this story. There was one thing I could do about the placement of my book in our institution's library: I emailed one of the librarians and told her my story. She was enormously sympathetic, and immediately said that she had no idea that’s where my book was located, and that when I returned it to the library, to bring it directly to her; she would go about the process of recategorizing it so that it sits with other memoir/short story/poetry literary works.
Wow. All I had to do was ask. Actually, I didn’t even do that; I simply relayed my dismay, and Elizabeth was all over it. Thank you, Elizabeth.Of course, Elizabeth is an extraordinary human being and I can’t count on all librarians being quite so receptive, but, would it hurt any of us Native/Native Scholars/Writers/Allies to check out the call numbers on Native books, and request that they be moved into their appropriate literary category? Or to do the same thing in the many bookstores out there where I routinely find Native poets in with either Native history or White People’s Woo-Woo Crystal-Gazing-How-To’s?
It would be a start. The rest of the world might not be as responsive as my small liberal-arts university librarian, but a concerted effort would be better than becoming part of the living-yet-dead-Native-authors down in the basement.
It’s hard when even the zombies (or those who animate them) don't want us.