Paula Gunn Allen, ed.

Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women, edited with an introduction by Paula Gunn Allen, is a must read for those wishing to gain an understanding of the culture and context within which Native American women write.

This slim volume is divided into three sections: The Warriors, The Casualties, The Resistance. Gunn Allen introduces each section by situating it within its cultural context. Each section includes traditional writings that have been transmitted orally for many decades, as well as contemporary examples by well-known authors, such as Louise Erdrich, Anna Lee Walters, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Linda Hogan.

Gunn Allen’s excellent introduction to the collection provides a brief historical overview of the oppression and broken promises experienced by Native Americans. She also situates the traditional tales, some of which are biographical, and she draws connections between these tales and their contemporary counterparts. Her introductions are enlightening in that she approaches each section by clarifying terms and context, revealing nuances and subtleties in Native American writing that may not be readily apparent to all readers.

Some of the traditional tales may pose a challenge for readers steeped in the Western tradition of story-telling because they do not necessarily adhere to a linear, cause and effect pattern. They weave in and out, frequently circling back on themselves, revealing biographical details about Native lives and perspectives. The contemporary writings pick up many of the same themes of traditional tales while situating them in modern society. The themes remain the same: the struggle to maintain tradition, culture, kinship, and values against the onslaught of a dominant culture that tries to subvert all things Native. 

A compelling collection of traditional tales and contemporary short stories, some of which are heart-wrenching.

Highly recommended.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review