Anthology Spotlight: Dawnland Voices

Dawnland VoicesThis week we are spotlighting Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Voices edited by Siobhan Senier and published by the University of Nebraska Press. At nearly 700 pages, Dawnland Voices is a substantial contribution to the availability of writings by Native Americans for the classroom. Our profile of Dawnland Voices is not comprehensive—it is hard to account for everything with such a substantial collection of writings. However, I’m hopeful that this profile conveys to our readers the many applications for the anthology in the classroom.

Tribes Featured in Dawnland Voices
Dawnland Voices is divided into chapters highlighting the literary contributions of several native peoples from New England. Tribes covered include the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Mohegan, and the Schaghticoke. As Senier indicates in her introduction, the order of chapters in Dawnland Voices is dictated by a geographic movement starting in Canada and moving from north to south through New England.Unlike many anthologies following a strict chronological orientation, Dawnland Voices is organized by tribe with each individual chapter organized chronologically. Each chapter covers literature from early America (and, in some cases, Canada) to today. The selected tribes represent a range of perspectives and genres, but as Senier observes, Dawnland Voices does not represent every tribe of New England or their diverse literary productions. However, it represents a significant sampling of indigenous voices from throughout New England and would fit well in a variety of classroom settings.

A Multitude of Writers and Genres
The writings in Dawnland Voices include a diversity of writers, both established and relatively new. The texts are from women and men, young and old, and the writings range wide in their temporal scope. It includes poetry, short stories, excerpts from novels, recipes, and many other texts. Readers can also find fiction, nonfiction, and even political writings included in the pages of the anthology. The range of texts within each chapter contextualizes the contributions of each tribe by tapping into an idea that views these texts, regardless of time period, as a significant strand of culture and recognizing the idea of the self as inseparable from historical and cultural memory. The complex interplay of self and historical memory is one of the many themes (one that would likely resonate with students) infusing Dawnland Voices.

A Window to the Cultural and Political Work of an Anthology
Dawnland Voices is a collaborative effort and Senier describes, in the introduction, the process of anthologizing that involved community editors and numerous stakeholders from each tribe. By democratizing the editorial process and using community editors, Dawnland Voices has at its disposal a variety of texts often ignored by an anthology, regardless of its scope and editorial practice. The selections included draw from many sources and also include writers published in tribal newsletters or circulated through local newspapers and magazines. The community editor driven process of selection Senier uses counters the traditional notions of how we understand the circulation of texts. From Senier’s introduction, to the introductions written by the community editors and the texts themselves, Dawnland Voices enables teachers and students to see how indigenous peoples found ways to circulate their texts that rejected conventional understandings of publication. Dawnland Voices shows readers the vibrancy of looking beyond the prevalent models of publishing and circulation that privileges dominant cultures.

Each chapter of Dawnland Voices includes an introduction written by a community editor and situates the featured tribe and contextualizes the contents of the chapter. Each chapter introduction has a distinctive feel, both in style and content, because the community editors, like the tribes they write about, are distinct. The polyvocality of Dawnland Voices allows for different strands and themes to come out in the chapter introductions as the editors recount particular aspects of a tribe’s history, memory, and dissemination of ideas. By no means are the chapter introductions jarring to the readers. Instead, the variety found in the chapter introductions aids in illustrating the distinctiveness of each tribe. It is these same distinctions that infuse the writings as they reflect, rehearse, or reimagine dominant cultural and historical themes important to each tribe’s experience.

Audiences for Dawnland Voices
The range of audiences that should be interested in Dawnland Voices is immense. As Senier notes in her introduction, the need for a text like this one stemmed from her desire to have a collection of writings from local Native American authors. By filling a need that is inherently local, it reads like a text that would be at home in a bookstore’s shelves of local and regional writers. From the accessibly-written introduction materials to the included writings themselves, Dawnland Voices feels communal. Because of its community connection and localness, it is a book that would be equally comfortable on a gift list or a textbook order list. Dawnland Voices is as alive and vibrant as the Native American populations that it celebrates. This vividness is a good thing for general readers and students.

Dawnland Voices has appeal for various academic disciplines, classroom settings, and student levels. It goes without saying that Dawnland Voices would certainly fit in a class devoted to indigenous writing of New England or a class devoted to Native American writers beyond New England. It also has appeal for a class devoted to multi-ethnic literature and would make for a great text for a creative writing classroom or a class focused on contemporary literature. This anthology might be of use to someone teaching a class devoted to understanding historical and cultural memory. For readers of PALS interested in early Canada or #VastEarlyAmerica, there are a wealth of reasons to consider using Dawnland Voices in the classroom, too.

It is worth pausing to consider this anthology in the context of literary recovery. Dawnland Voices is an excellent text to include in a course focusing on literary recovery because it complicates our understanding of how recovery works and what it does. Yes, Dawnland Voices fits broadly within the context of literary recovery. However, it rejects the notion that these texts needed to be recovered; instead, it highlights the distinction between recovering forgotten and neglected literary works verses making writing accessible to a larger audience. As a complete text, Dawnland Voices makes clear that the Native Americans of New England did not disappear and nor did they stop producing cultural and literary works. The populations highlighted were there all along and creating cultural works within a context rejecting conventional forms of publication and dissemination. The writers included in the anthology produce(d) literature and are/were read within the context of literary circulation specific to each tribe. By featuring the distinction between recovery versus providing accessibility of these writings to a larger audience, Dawnland Voices should be included in a class on literary recovery. Moreover, in the context of recovery, Senier’s introduction would make for excellent reading in the classroom because it emphasizes the inherent problems with recovery and helps us to understand the political and cultural work of producing an anthology. The introduction of Dawnland Voices is a fascinating look in on the world of anthology production and university publishing.

In the Classroom
Dawnland Voices is appropriate to various levels of student audiences. The introductory materials and selections should appeal to early career and advanced students. The readability of Senier’s introduction and the community editors’ introductions makes for an appealing text that helpfully situates the selections in the anthology. Each author featured in Dawnland Voices is accompanied by an introductory head note that provides biographic and cultural or historical context. Compared to many other anthologies, Dawnland Voices is light on textual glosses, but most historical or cultural references are glossed or covered in the various introductions. The lack of textual glosses, as Senier address in the introduction, has much to do with authorial intent, cultural traditions, and editorial practice. The lack of glosses has the potential to make for interesting classroom discussion while providing an opportunity for students to research and learn about aspects of each text.

Dawnland Voices makes very clear the gaps that it does not address, and these gaps invite student work and assignments that engage in community-based outreach. There are gaps in the populations represented. There are, also, gaps in the genres represented in each section. This anthology owns its gaps by explaining in the introduction why they exist. The existence of these gaps is a fascinating insight into the production of the text and reveal a great deal about producing an anthology in the context of working with a diverse community. The gaps mark an opportunity for student discussion and the creation of assignments that use these openings as places of departure. For assignments looking to move beyond Dawnland Voices, the anthology provides resources for further reading and exploration of the peoples, writers, and ideas at its core. The bibliography resources are an invitation to further discovery. In addition to the substantial listing of works cited for the introduction, the chapters include a section of “Further Reading” and a section of “Additional Reading.” These additional resources highlight the various writers and tribes in the chapters.

Several practical aspects of Dawnland Voices make it an attractive classroom text. At nearly 700 pages, it is a bargain for the retail price of $35. Dawnland Voices is reader-friendly because it doesn’t use the tiny and closely packed font of many anthologies. The ample text size and page space invites underlining and marginal notes. Most pieces are short and that allows for a wide approach to potential text pairings and reading assignments for a class. The length of many of the pieces is practical for the classroom setting because it provides opportunities to focus on specific aspects of each text.

Dawnland Voices Online
Dawnland Voices is complemented by Dawnland Voices 2.0: An Online Magazine for Contemporary New England Writers. The site features various authors and genres. The online portal and the physical book dovetail with the shared emphasis on how the indigenous peoples featured in Dawnland Voices did not go anywhere and continue to produce a variety of literary and cultural work. Dawnland Voices 2.0 presents another avenue for students to explore ideas and topics in a digital setting by serving as the portal to Indigenous New England Digital Collections. Anthologies have limitations, and, as mentioned above, Dawnland Voices has gaps, but it owns those gaps. Dawnland Voices 2.0 and Indigenous New England Digital Collections work to address these gaps by moving beyond the limitations of a physical book and entering the online world. An anthology privileges the written word and puts a primary emphasis on printed text. However, for many indigenous peoples such understandings of how we tell stories and communicate meaning is very limited. The digital companion to Dawnland Voices includes various objects that counter the privileging of print. There are many texts on the site that can be “read.” For instance, there are numerous resources devoted to baskets, the production of which is often dismissed as women’s work but is a nuanced way of communicating meaning.

Dawnland Voices is a fascinating anthology. I highly recommend taking a look at it for your personal library or use in the classroom. In writing this profile, I wanted to focus on the applications and possibilities of Dawnland Voices in the classroom. Hopefully, this anthology spotlight provides as sense of the potential it has in that area. I realize that I did not cover all the aspects of Dawnland Voices, but I wanted to give a sense of the classroom applications of the text, which is often something that can’t be conveyed by looking at website descriptions or an online table of contents.

Interested in reading more about Dawnland Voices? Ben Railton’s blog featured a guest post by Siobhan Senier where she discussed Dawnland Voices. We highly recommend you check it out! Both Dawnland Voices and Senier are on Twitter. Dawnland Voices also has a Facebook page. View Senier’s introduction to Dawnland Voices and the table of contents here.


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