Southeastern Native American Literature
Native American literature from the Southeastern United States is deeply rooted in the oral traditions of the various tribes that have historically called that region home. While the tribes most integrally associated with the Southeastern U.S. in the American popular mind--the FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole)--were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) from their ancestral territories in the American South, descendents of those tribes have created compelling literary works that have kept alive their tribal identities and histories by incorporating traditional themes and narrative elements. While reflecting profound awareness of the value of the Native American past, these literary works have also revealed knowing perspectives on the meaning of the modern world in the lives of contemporary Native Americans.
Much of the literature written by Native Americans from the Southeastern U.S. draws from traditional tribal myths. Many of these myths have been transcribed and translated into English by various ethnographers and folklorists, and, in the case of the Cherokee, myths have been collected and published in acclaimed books. Anthropologist James Mooney, an employee of the federal government at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, collected a large number of mythological stories from informants during his years of fieldwork among the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in western North Carolina; Mooney incorporated that material into the important compilation Myths of the Cherokee (1900). A century later, folklorist Barbara R. Duncan, a researcher employed by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, collected from her informants additional traditional myths and legends as well as family and personal stories, and Duncan included those stories in the book Living Stories of the Cherokee (1998). Additional books have showcased the storytelling traditions of other tribes, including Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians, edited by Bill Grantham (2002); Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907, edited by Theda Perdue (1993); and Native American Legends: Southeastern Legends--Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations, edited by George E. Lankford and W. K. McNeil (1987).
Members of the Five Civilized Tribes were at the vanguard of Native American literature during the nineteenth century. The earliest work of fiction in English by an author of native descent is generally thought to be Poor Sarah, or Religion Exemplified in the Life and Death of an Indian Woman, a 1823 pamphlet probably written by Elias Boudinot (ca. 1804-1839). A formally educated member of the Cherokee tribe who was born in Georgia, Boudinot was the editor of the bilingual newspaper The Cherokee...