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Kenneth Lincolns Native American Renaissance has the distinction of naming the era in American Indian

literature that followed N. Scott Momadays 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his novelHouse Made of Dawn, and
Lincolns designation of this era as a renaissance continues to shape the scholarship in the field. We speak of
pre-renaissance and post-renaissance literature and of first and second wave renaissance writers, and we
consistently remark upon and celebrate the dramatic increase in writing by American Indians that began in the
1960s and 1970s and continues unabated into the first decade of the twenty-first century. While there is some
resistance to calling the era a renaissance as well as some anxiety produced by our tendency to allow
Momadays novel and the Pulitzer Prize to stand as the eras origin point, that a Native American renaissance
emerged in the 1960s and 1970s remains an infrequently challenged axiom in the field. At least one of Lincolns
primary assertions about contemporary American Indian writingthat we can find its origins in Indigenous oral
storytelling traditionsalso still resonates in much contemporary scholarship.
Yet reading Lincolns book twenty-five years after its publication is as much puzzling as it is
rewarding. The books structure is particularly confounding. Sections of every chapter were published between
1975 and 1982 in an extraordinary range of scholarly genres. The book is a collection of lectures; introductions
to special issues of journals, such as the American Indian Culture and Research Journal at UCLA; articles in
journals, such as the aforementioned AICRJ and MELUS; review essays; book reviews; and forewords to
collections of poetry published byUCLAs American Indian Studies Center. Lincoln draws few explicit
connections among the arguments that he makes in each chapter other than to reiterate that he is discussing
American Indian authors who are both publishing during the same historical moment and translating Indigenous
oral storytelling traditions into written western forms.
Indeed, Lincoln tends to assert the fact of the renaissance without providing any extended commentary on the
literary, cultural, political, and historical implications of identifying this era as a rebirth or revival of Indigenous
oral storytelling traditions in writing. The words in the provocative title appear infrequently in the book and
almost exclusively at the beginnings and ends of chapters. The first statement in the introduction that defines
features of the renaissance also includes one of the few attempts Lincoln makes to justify renaissance as the
appropriate designation for the historical period under his consideration: The Native American renaissance here
targeted, less than two decades of published Indian literature, is a written renewal of oral traditions translated
into Western literary forms. Contemporary Indian literature is not so much new, then, as regenerate: transitional
continuities emerging from the old. These transitional continuities make problematic the assertion that he is
witnessing a renaissance. If American Indians have continuously maintained their storytelling traditions, the
repositories of their tribal histories as well as cultural beliefs, values, and practices, then we have an
extraordinary example of survival and endurance rather than a revival of various modes of artistic expression.
This distinction between continuity and rebirth has potentially dramatic implications for those Indigenous
people who must demonstrate an unbroken chain of cultural practice from the distant past into the present
moment to gain federal recognition, and the attendant access to land and resources, from the United States
government. In addition to the widespread regeneration or continuance of ancient storytelling practices, the
number of Indigenous writers and the historical novelty of an interested non-Indigenous audience for them also
characterize the Native American renaissance: hundreds of tribal voices now facet a Native American
renaissance: one pluralistic body of diverse peoples newly voiced in contemporary history. Along with the
previously cited passage, this statement on the last page of the introduction captures the entirety of Lincolns
primary arguments about the renaissance.

The organization of Chapter 4, A Contemporary Tribe of Poets, demonstrates that for Lincoln the phrase
Native American renaissance is a gesture that encapsulates the drama of a particular historical moment and
that establishes and frames but does not drive his argument. A Contemporary Tribe of Poets is a review of the
many anthologies of Indigenous writing, primarily poetry, that were published in the 1970s. At the beginning of
the chapter, Lincoln refigures the assertion that he makes in the introduction about the characteristics of the
renaissance: tribal oral materials are now shaping the written word; for many American readers, these are the
first Native American voices to be heard. The present generation of postwar Indian writers now publishes
poems, novels, plays, essays, and treatises in English as a first language. Their literary breakthrough gives voice
to the present Indian renaissance. The breadth of the chapterLincoln considers at least ten anthologies
obstructs any movement toward critical nuance. The observations about the anthologies are sweeping and the
comments on the poems brief and often cryptic. The final section of the chapter includes Lincolns observation
that of the hundreds of Indian poets anthologized and the thousands unpublished, the fifty or so discussed here
make up an American Indian literary renaissance, perhaps better termed an emergence, as the Pueblos speak of
coming up through layers of world-realities. These two passages contain the only references in the chapter to a
renaissance, and Lincoln does not return to the idea that we could identify the movement he describes in ways
much more specific to contemporary Indigenous American contexts.
Yet Lincolns careful demonstration of the influence of oral storytelling traditions on American Indian literatures
is still rewarding for contemporary readers. As he explains in the introduction, tracing the connective threads
between the cultural past and its expression in the present is the purpose ofNative American Renaissance.
Chapter 5, Word Senders: Black Elk and N. Scott Momaday, and Chapter 7, Blackfeet Winter Blues: James
Welch, make these connective threads between the past and present most visible, and Lincolns focus on the
evocation of Blackfeet storytelling traditions in Welchs poems and novels would provide satisfaction for
contemporary scholars devoted to tribal nation specificity in their own literary critical practices. At the same
time, Lincoln also considers the influence of non-Indigenous American writers on the three authorsMomaday,
Welch, and Leslie Marmon Silkoto whom he devotes single chapters and on the many other American Indian
authors who make appearances in his study. The frequent references to Homer, Thoreau, Twain, Eliot, Pound,
Yeats, Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner, William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, W. S. Merwin,
Denise Levertov, and Jerome Rothenberg suggest the urgency of Lincolns attempt to continue legitimizing a
field that at the time was only in its second decade.
When Lincoln was writing Native American Renaissance, Native American writers were far more numerous
than Native literary studies scholars. As a catalog of Native writers and a broad survey of the issues that they
raise, therefore, Native American Renaissance demonstrates an urgent need for more scholarship on the
literature that Lincoln evaluates only in a cursory manner. Now, twenty-five years after Lincoln devotes single
chapters to Momaday and Silko, we have entire books on both authors. While Lincoln is multi-tribal or pantribal as well as multi-cultural in his approach rather than tribal nation specific, we also now have entire books
on the literary productions of authors from single tribes. With so many recovered writers (Samson Occom,
Joseph Johnson, William Apess, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, S. Alice Callahan, Lynn Riggs, Todd Downing) now
available and so much more scholarship on pre-renaissance writers such as Gertrude Bonnin, Charles Alexander
Eastman, and Sarah Winnemucca, Lincolns contention that there was a renaissance appears a little less dramatic
from an early twenty-first century perspective. However, Lincoln looks prescient when we consider the vibrant
state of the field and the many award-winning writers (Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, Thomas King) that
followed the publication of his book. Much like Paula Gunn Allens The Sacred Hoop (1986), which has
endured some recent criticism for misrepresenting Indigenous cultures and histories, Native American

Renaissance stands as an important work of literary criticism and an invaluable contribution to the efforts to
legitimize Native literary studies.