Hogan exposes Native history in her storytelling fiction

April 30, 1995
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Linda Hogan joked that she used to be six feet tall and blond but she routinely chanted affirmations, hoping to become short, round and dark.

``And it worked,'' she said to the laughter from a Native American studies class at UC Davis last week.

Hogan, small, dark and elegant, is a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist who grew up in Oklahoma and lives in Colorado. She teaches one class a semester at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

She is the author of several books of poetry and fiction, and has published essays on environmental issues for The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club and elsewhere.

Her novel, ``Mean Spirit,'' was one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize, and received the Oklahoma Book Award for fiction, 1990, as well as the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award.

Her newest book of poetry, ``The Book of Medicines,'' from Coffee House Press, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

She told UCD students last week why she writes both fiction and poetry.

``In my work I've noticed that with fiction I can take political issues and weave story and character around them. I haven't written any poetry for a year and a half,'' she said.

``In fiction I find a story that needs to be told. Not enough people read poetry,'' she said.

Both her novels, ``Mean Spirit'' and ``Solar Storms,'' (Scribner's) due out in September, are based on historical incidents.

``Mean Spirit'' is set in the 1920s. It interweaves fiction with fact and history concerning the oil murders of that time, a time when white men married Osage women - and then murdered them - to gain control of their oil leases.

``When natural gas was discovered and people came to the grasslands of Oklahoma you could not see the horizon for the oil derricks,'' Hogan said.

``Solar Storms,'' her second novel, is about the degradation of the James Bay area in Canada to make electricity available for New York City.

Hogan, who has worked in wildlife rehabilitation as a volunteer, also has been a consultant on the raptor exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum, and was hired as a consultant to bring Indian points of view into the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. She is currently organizing a conference in Alaska of tribal elders to address the problems of endangered animal and plant species.

Another book due out this year is a book of essays on animals called ``Dwellings'' (Norton). She was the writer for the documentary, ``Everything Has a Spirit,'' a history of American Indian religious freedom.

A student asked Hogan if her life has turned out the way she thought it would.

``I was going to have lots of kids and marry an Arkansas truck driver,'' said Hogan.

``Why Arkansas?'' someone asked.

``Because it was exotic and close to Oklahoma,'' Hogan said.

``I was the first person in my family to go to school,'' she added. ``I never thought I'd be a writer.''

Hogan said she sits down to write because she loves to write. ``I never thought I'd publish anything,'' she said.

``I don't believe in such a thing as talent. It takes perseverance. I will do it over and over again until I get it right. I'm on my third novel now.''

``How do you know when you get it right?'' she was asked.

``It's intuitive,'' she said. ``In the meantime, ask friends or co-writers.''

If your stories keep coming back, she said, you're either a genius or you need more work.

``I've noticed that my students don't like to rewrite or revise,'' she said.

Hogan also teaches a creative writing workshop for members of her tribe.

``People are starting to recover from the effects of colonization,'' she said. ``People are going home, being strong, believing in themselves.''

Hogan said she and her Chickasaw boyfriend are planning to learn their native language, which has not been spoken at her home since her father's generation.

She was asked how she felt about money-making businesses Native Americans have been involved with in recent years - businesses from casino gambling to nuclear waste disposal.

``I hate it and love it at the same time,'' she said. ``I don't like to see elders working in a casino, but it brings money and it will balance out eventually. It's hard for people who have never had money to suddenly have it. And nobody should store nuclear waste.''

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