Denfeld News

March/April, 2010
Living North Magazine

The Author:
Linda LeGarde Grover pens short stories of Ojibwe struggles
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 in September.

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.

Going fiction

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 poems.

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.

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