Linda LeGarde Grover pens short stories of Ojibwe
By Lucie B. Amundsen, Living North
Linda LeGarde Grover has been quietly sending
her writing into the world with this realistic outlook: “Why
would someone in New York or L.A. be interested in a native woman
writing about a specific geographic area?”
Well, in Georgia, at least, important “someones”
have shown great interest.
The University of Georgia Press last fall named
Grover one of two winners of the annual Flannery O’Connor
Award for Short Fiction. Named after the southern writer, the award
honors recipients with a check for $1,000 and a publishing contract.
“It was a very exciting e-mail to receive,”
admits Grover, who still seems astonished that her collection of
short stories, “The Dance Boots,” will be published
While it may seem like a case of overnight success,
the book is really the culmination of years of preparation, research
and life experiences as a Native American. “The fictional
short stories I have written are a very small part of a much bigger
true story of family, community,tribe and nation,” says Grover,
an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa (also referred
to as Ojibwe).
Also propelling Grover’s writing into the
world is another award. A similarly themed collection of short stories,
“The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” won the First Book Award
from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas last year.
“It’s a different set of stories that
is more like a novel,” says Grover, who is looking for a publisher
for the work.
Grover grew up in a large Duluth family, writing
poetry and starting a long path toward a series of college degrees.
“I went to school full-time for just one quarter, when I was
right out of high school. The rest was part-time while I worked
at my various jobs, raised my kids and grappled with the joys and
challenges of living,” Grover says.
After many years, she graduated from the University
of Minnesota Duluth and “did a stint on the Range,”
working for an Indian education program. In 1999, she completed
her Ph.D. in educational administration and is now an assistant
professor at UMD in the Department of American Indian Studies.
‘The Dance Boots’
The individual stories in “The Dance Boots”
are interconnected. “Someone might be there as a child, later
as an elder depending on the point of the story,” Grover explains.
In the collection’s first piece, Grover
introduces a harried working mother, Artense, who is struggling
with her community college biology class. Between laundry, homework
and the late night news, she receives a series of phone calls from
her Aunt Shirley. Over the next 15 years, Shirley reveals the family
story and its inescapable relationship with Indian boarding schools.
These government schools took native children
from their homes in an effort to assimilate Indians into the larger
culture. “The Dance Boots” illustrates the longreaching
impact of these policies with poignant and surprisingly joyful moments.
The characters span a century and the stories
portray the struggle between change and the Ojibwe community’s
traditional way of life. “For all its dark realism, these
stories are also magical,” says Nancy Zafris, the series editor
for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction award, who judged
the 300 contest entries. “They are about the power of love,
family and storytelling to heal.”
Grover completed her dissertation on government
efforts at “Americanizing” Indians and put out a nonfiction
chapbook of poetry based on her research on Indian education policy.
The book, “The Indian at Indian School,” was published
by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Grover was encouraged to make the leap to fiction
by her doctoral advisor, Tom Peacock, formerly a UMD faculty member.
“At the time she was only writing poetry and would share some
of it. It was just beautiful, and you know there’s a lot of
bad poetry out there,” he laughs. In fact, Peacock so respected
her work that he opened a chapter of his textbook with one of her
However, he envisioned a larger audience for Grover’s
writing and actively encouraged her switch from poetry to fiction.
“More people simply read fiction,” says Peacock, who
says he is thrilled that his friend of 20 years is “hitting
it big time.”
Although Grover was encouraged to publish her
college dissertation, she declined. Instead of directly retelling
the stories, Grover captured the essence of the accounts. “The
stories are so common; they’re universal when we’re
talking about native people,” Grover says.
Though told on the written page, Grover feels
the narrative’s connection to the oral tradition of native
peoples. “It’s the idea of stories being passed down
and the telling of our grandparents’ story. It’s a story
of survival,” she says.