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33As a writer of Chickasaw heritage, Linda Hogan centers herself and, consequently, her readers on what nature has to teach human beings and on the regenerative female forces that shape the world. The Chickasaw were matrilineal, which means the family line is passed down through the mother; other tribes, though recognizing men as their leaders, revered their women as the creative life force of the universe. Domination by Christian Europeans, Hogan maintains, has altered the traditional tribal balance between male and female power in American Indian life. In her works Hogan seeks to restore that balance and to offer ancient wisdom about nature in mythological yet contemporary terms.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Born in Denver on July 17, 1947, to Charles Henderson, a Chickasaw, and Cleona Bower Henderson, Hogan was raised in various locations as her father was transferred from post to post by the U.S. Army. But, she has always regarded Oklahoma, where her father’s family lives, as her home. In her autobiographical essay ”The Two Lives” (1987), she writes of her mother’s ancestors, who settled in the Nebraska Territory. Drawing on a journal she inherited, Hogan describes the settlers’ desperation after crop failures and grasshopper plagues, which was compounded by the government’s policy of killing the buffalo that both Indians and non-Indians needed for survival. At the same time, Native Americans were being forced off their lands, removed to new places, crowded together, and sometimes killed outright. As Hogan notes, ”It was a continuing time of great and common acts of cruelty and violence.”
In her recitation of her job history in ”The Two Lives,” one can readily see why Hogan feels loyalty toward the working poor: ”I worked at many… low-paying jobs, in nursing homes, in dental offices, and filing for a collection agency.” She obtained her undergraduate degree as a commuter student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and other schools, only to find much of the educational experience lacking in relevance to her own life. Nonetheless, she became aware of working-class writers whose stories run parallel to those of her family and the family of her former husband, Pat Hogan.
Hogan received her M.A. in English and creative writing from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1978. She taught at several universities in Colorado and Minnesota between 1977 and 1989; since 1989 she has taught in the American Indian Studies Program and the English department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition, she gives lectures, readings, and workshops at other universities and in Native American communities and for Native American organizations. As a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and playwright Hogan has been committed to environmental preservation; she has worked as a volunteer in wildlife rehabilitation clinics in Minnesota and in Colorado.
Family and Fiction
Hogan adopted two daughters of Oglala Lakota heritage, Sandra Dawn Protector and Tanya Thunder Horse, in 1979. Many of the poems in her collection Eclipse (1983) portray a mother’s sense of helplessness in shielding her children from such destructive forces as war and nuclear waste.
In addition to poetry, Hogan also writes short stories and novels. In a 1988 interview Bo Scholer asked Hogan how she perceived the distinctions among ”fact, history, fiction and truth.” ”Fiction may be a dance along the razor’s edge of paradox,” she replied. Fiction at its best functions much as myth does, as a spotlight on greater truths than who did what, where, and why, according to Hogan. First published in the Missouri Review in 1989 and selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories the same year, ”Aunt Moon’s Young Man” is narrated by a Chickasaw girl. Hogan captures the sensibility of budding womanhood in her young protagonist’s struggles to understand sex and family; through conversations and interactions between the protagonist and her mother, Hogan delicately presents the mother’s valiant efforts at parenting, in spite of her feelings of dissatisfaction. Throughout, the reader sees the little things people do—for better or for worse—to make themselves feel important and useful.
As the bearers of life, women have, says Hogan, a special responsibility in taking care of life. Her poetry collection Book of Medicines (1993) lays out a plan in which a new vision of the world takes shape; in Hogan’s poem, God resides not above, but within nature. Biblical events from the Creation to the Fall from Grace to the Redemption are reinterpreted. ”The History of Red” presents a vision of the first humans’ harmony with animals and the rest of creation; the sections that follow, ”Hunger” and ”The Book of Medicines,” represent the Fall and the Redemption, respectively.
Two books appeared late in 1995. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World gathers seventeen essays that express Hogan’s belief in the interconnectedness of all life forms. In the preface she says that she writes ”out of respect for the natural world, recognizing that humankind is not separate from nature.” In the novel Solar Storms, seventeen-year-old Angela Jensen leaves her foster home in Oklahoma and travels to a rural village in Minnesota called Adam’s Rib. There she meets her great-grandmother, her great-great-grandmother, and Bush, the woman who cared for her when she was a baby. Together, they journey in canoes searching for the great-great-grandmother’s birthplace, which will be destroyed by a proposed hydroelectric dam. Both Dwellings and Solar Storms continue Hogan’s celebration of the natural world and her powerful critique of those who scar that world. In 2008 she published another novel, People of the Whale, and a book of poems, Rounding the Human Corners.
Works in Literary Context
In Savings (1988) there is an awareness that spiritual consciousness and material political action may stand in complementary relation to one another. The interconnectedness, not only of spiritual and material but of inner and outer worlds, is evidenced, not only in the title, but also in the two-part structure of Savings.
Mean Spirit (1990) is a novel about survival—of the spirit and of the land. It is significant that Michael Horse, when he loses his powers of divination, retreats to Sorrow Cave to rejuvenate himself and record the history of his people during the troubled times depicted in the novel. He tells a friend that he is writing a new book of the Bible. He does not want to rewrite or throw out the White man’s Bible; he simply wants to add to it, to include the Indian way along with the Ten Commandments.
In her novel Mean Spirit, Hogan takes the reader on a journey to the heart of America, showing it not as a land of opportunity but as a land of the American Dream gone dreadfully and shamefully wrong. The novel is set in northeastern Oklahoma in the 1920s, during the Osage oil boom—known among the Indians as the Osage Reign of Terror or ”the great frenzy”—and follows the Graycloud and Blanket families through a time when whites were exploiting, oppressing, and killing Native Americans to obtain the tribe’s oil wealth. Since the income from oil was divided equally among all enrolled Osage tribe members, marrying an Osage woman could make a non-Indian man rich, particularly if the couple had children. Hogan quotes from an actual letter written by a young white man, C. J. Plimer of Joplin, Missouri, to the Indian agent in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, on October 16, 1907; in the novel the writer is unnamed and the agent is in the fictional town of Watona, Oklahoma. The writer says that he is seeking an Osage wife, ”not a full blood, but… one as near white as possible.” In exchange for helping him find a woman, the man offers to pay a fee: ”for every Five Thousand Dollars she is worth I will give you Twenty-Five Dollars.” Such blatantly materialistic grasping went hand-in-hand with spiritual intrusion on the part of the government, in its assimilation policies and its encouragement of missionaries among the Indians.
Works in Critical Context
In Eclipse (1983), Hogan retains the perspective established in Calling Myself Home (1978) and based in her Chickasaw heritage and her faith in female strength. Eclipse also includes poems that attempt to reconnect readers with the natural world, honoring each of the four winds, the sky father, and the mother earth. ”Hogan crafts phrases of common speech and weaves the lines in natural idioms,” notes Kenneth Lincoln in the book’s foreword. ”The verses carry the muted voices of talk before sleep, quieting the world, awaiting the peace of home. . . . Her poems offer a careful voicing of common things not yet understood, necessary to survival.”
The Book of Medicines
With her 1993 poetry collection The Book of Medicines, Hogan invokes the therapeutic power of rhyme to treat the psychic damage inflicted by human conquest over nature and other people. Drawing on Native American folklore, ritual, and female spirituality, Hogan’s incantations address profound manifestations of illness, grief, and the failure of science in the modern world. Robyn Selman describes Hogan’s work as “ecopoetry” in her essay in the Voice Literary Supplement, particularly as the poems in this volume ”take as their subject the very elements of life—fire, air, earth, and water—set into motion with bears, fishes, and humans.” Carl L. Bankston notes in the Bloomsbury Review, ”Hogan’s fine sense of rhythm weaves through images of nature and of humankind’s uneasy place in nature.” As Robert L. Berner concludes in World Literature Today,” The Book of Medicines is a significant step, indeed a giant stride, in the development of a major American poet.”
- Coltelli, Laura. ”Linda Hogan,” in her Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1990, pp. 71-86.
- Smith, Patricia Clark. ”Linda Hogan,” in This is about Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers, edited by William Balassi, John F. Crawford, and Annie O. Eysturoy. Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press, 1990, pp. 141-155.
- ”To Take Care of a Life,” in Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, edited by Joseph Bruchac. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 119-133.
- Wilson, Terry P. The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
- Bankston, Carl L. III. A review of The Book of Medicines.The Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 13, No. 6 (November-December 1993): 10.
- Bell, Betty Louise, ed. Special issue on Hogan. Studies in American Indian Literature 6 (Fall 1994).
- Hurley, Joanna T. ”A Dark Vision of Hope.” The Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 (January-February1991): 1.
- Scholer, Bo. ”A Heart Made out of Crickets: An Interview with Linda Hogan.” Journal ofEthnic Studies 16 (Spring 1988): 107-117.
- Clair, Janet. ”Uneasy Ethnocentrism: Recent Works of Allen, Silko, and Hogan.” Studies in American Indian Literature 6 (Spring 1994): 83-98.
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