Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Linda LeGarde Grover on Listening and Learning

In the 49th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Linda LeGarde Grover, author of The Dance Boots (University of Georgia Press), talks about a tradition of storytelling.

Describe one of the stories in your collection.The first story is called “The Dance Boots” and was the last written. The narrator, Artense, receives a telephone call from her Aunt Shirley, who then begins to tell her niece stories about their family. In this contemporary continuation of Ojibwe oral tradition a worldview and history are passed from one generation to another. Over twenty years of listening and learning from Aunt Shirley, Artense absorbs the collective story that she will one day pass to the generation that follows her own.

What is your writing process like? I try to keep an open mind and heart for when it is time to write. I have written while watching TV, I have written while listening to Broadway show tunes on my headphones. When the time is right it is right, so I try to pay attention. It’s beyond my own decision, perhaps; I haven’t yet tried deciding to sit at the desk and write a piece of fiction. The fiction seems to make its own decisions.

What do you think a good short story collection should deliver? For my own collection I thought that the stories needed to link. Ojibwe traditional storytelling links people and spirits, time and place, events and consequences. This creates what I have heard called a “big picture” view of the world past, present and to come. My own collection is small contribution to the story of Ojibwe survival.

What book made you want to become a writer? Pocahontas, by the D’aulaires. My first grade teacher read us the story and showed us the pictures. I then checked the book out of the school library many times. I saw the book through the eyes of an American Indian child and felt the sense of storytelling as a means of educating in that indirect way of the Ojibwe. I could talk here about the questions of historical accuracy and biased presentation in that book, but what I chose to look at was the story of a girl and her father, of courage and even happiness in the face of awesome and tragic historical events. I think that the characters in “The Dance Boots” exhibit those same traits as well as their grounding in family and community strengths.

What kind of research do you do? My dissertation was on the effects of boarding school education on American Indian (mostly Ojibwe) individuals and families. I have continued that research and focus much of my work today on families, on Ojibwe traditional teaching and learning, and on Ojibwe epistemology in literature.

What, if any, non-literary forms of expression do you practice?
I sew aprons from old patterns. It’s a way of understanding other people; most aprons I make have a person in mind, whether it ends up going to her or not. The women I know are models, unaware and unintentional, who sometimes receive an apron as a gift.

Who is your favorite living author, and why?There are many: The Erdrich sisters, Amy Tan, and Diane Wilson all write about the strength of ordinary people living ordinary lives in extraordinary times (perhaps all times are extraordinary for some people). And I have read Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go several times, probably because of the same. Strength does not always equate with survival.