Minn. Life is something of a dance for families on the mythical
Mozhay Point Indian Reservation in Minnesota, created in Linda LeGarde
Grover's short-story collection, "The Dance Boots."
steps forward, two back, a turn here or there and the tales weave
rhythmically back and forth between the reservation, nearby cities
and boarding schools, between eras from the turn of the 20th century
into the 21st and between families, lovers and friends.
collection of stories earned Grover one of two 2009 Flannery O'Connor
Awards for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press. Since
1983, the awards have included a cash prize and publication of a
short story collection. Grover's "The Dance Boots"
will be published Sept. 15.
is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa in Minnesota and
is an assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University
of Minnesota Duluth.
stories are genuine and sincere. (The collection) wasn't academic,
it wasn't cloy.
It was funny and these people's
lives are important," Nancy Zafris, editor for the Flannery
O'Connor Award series, said of Grover's work. "All
of her cultural and linguistic details.
broaden the stories.
The stories seem universal to me."
Flannery O'Connor Awards, established in the 1960s in honor
of the famed novelist and short story writer who died in 1964, attracts
as many as 300 manuscripts each year. The other 2009 winner was
Jessica Treadway from upstate New York and her manuscript Please
Come Back to Me."
The Dance Boots," many of the characters two-step between
languages, mingling Ojibwe with English; this dance of language
comes from Grover's childhood.
remember that very well. Some of my relatives could speak the language,
joking in Ojibwe.
That's just the way I was used to
the characters and the reservation are fictional, all are based
on experience for Grover. The title story of The Dance Boots"
does harken to Grover's family. Her grandmother, who died before
she was born, was a traditional dancer and Grover also did get boots
for her own dancing from her aunty, just as in the story.
fictional boarding schools play prominently in these stories, but
a real boarding school, the former Vermillion Lake Indian School
near Tower, Minn., was where her grandparents met. Grover has done
an article for the Minnesota Historical Society on that school and
used some of that information for her fiction.
fact, true stories about boarding school experiences eventually
led Grover to try fiction. Her doctoral dissertation involved gathering
histories from Ojibwe elders about their time at such schools. On
completing her project, she felt comfortable presenting the information
to members of her review committee, such as Thomas Peacock of the
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the associate dean
of the UMD College of Education and Human Service Professions. But
she felt the stories were too personal to share with a broader audience
and so did not seek publication of her dissertation, as might be
didn't feel like exposing our stories in that way."
himself an author of several award-winning non-fiction books, suggested
that Grover try to use what she had learned in fiction.
of fiction for herself, she tried it. I could see that it
was just terrible," she recalled of her first attempt, but
then I tried it again and found I liked it."
has since written many short pieces and poetry, including an unpublished
collection called The Road Back to Sweetgrass" that uses many
of the same characters or relations of characters in The Dance
Boots." She also has done a chapbook," The.Indian.at.Indian.School,"
as part of the Native Writers Chapbook Series. It is in book form
and can be found online at anpa.ualr.edu/digital_library/indatindschool.html.
"The Dance Boots," Grover deals with many of the issues
raised during interviews for her dissertation, but she feels comfortable
presenting them in a way that does not betray the trust of the elders
who spoke with her.
like these people. They're fiction, I know.
but I try to treat them with courtesy and discretion; that
is proper Ojibwe manners."
Linda LeGarde Grover, author of "The Dance Boots"
fiction and that makes all the difference in the world."
Grover feels a loyalty to these fictional characters.
like these people. They're fiction, I know.
but I try
to treat them with courtesy and discretion; that is proper Ojibwe
also tries to introduce the cultural mores of her Ojibwe heritage
into her teaching methods. Many of her class assignments are cooperative
projects, where students depend on and help each other.
was created for a purpose much larger than yourself. That is the
trust that was given to each generation."
Grover, fictional storytelling to record important parts of her
heritage may be that purpose.
is really one of the gifts that I've been given in life. It's a
tremendous privilege, a tremendous gift."