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Thomas King

Thomas King: Works and Impact

Edited by Eva Gruber
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 376
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Thomas King
    Book Description:

    Thomas King is one of North America's foremost Native writers, best known for his novels, including 'Green Grass, Running Water', for the 'DreadfulWater' mysteries, and for collections of short stories such as 'One Good Story, That One' and 'A Short History of Indians in Canada.' But King is also a poet, a literary and cultural critic, and a noted filmmaker, photographer, and scriptwriter and performer for radio. His career and oeuvre have been validated by literary awards and by the inclusion of his writing in college and university curricula. Critical responses to King's work have been abundant, yet most of this criticism consists of journal articles, and to date only one book-length study of his work exists. 'Thomas King: Works and Impact' fills this gap by providing an up-to-date, comprehensive overview of all major aspects of King's oeuvre as well as its reception and influence. It brings together expert scholars to discuss King's role in and impact on Native literature and to offer in-depth analyses of his multifaceted body of work. The volume will be of interest to students and scholars of literature, English, and Native American studies, and to King aficionados. Contributors: Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber, Julia Breitbach, Stuart Christie, James H. Cox, Marta Dvorak, Floyd Favel, Kathleen Flaherty, Aloys Fleischmann, Marlene Goldman, Eva Gruber, Helen Hoy, Renée Hulan and Linda Warley, Carter Meland, Reingard M. Nischik, Robin Ridington, Suzanne Rintoul, Katja Sarkowsky, Blanca Schorcht, Mark Shackleton, Martin Kuester and Marco Ulm, Doris Wolf. Eva Gruber is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Constance, Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-830-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
    Eva Gruber
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-8)
    Eva Gruber

    Thomas king is among the best-known contemporary Native writers in North America. In the generation that followed the first wave of Native American Renaissance authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko and N. Scott Momaday, King, along with Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, and Louis Owens, is a leading voice. Through frequent public appearances at festivals, on radio shows, and most recently in the political arena, he is a highly visible personality on the literary landscape, and the sustained quality of his work has been appreciated not least through the numerous prizes and honors he has been awarded or nominated for. King...

  5. Part 1: Works
    • 1: Thomas King’s Abo-Modernist Novels (pp. 11-34)
      Marta Dvořák

      Thomas king’s first book, Medicine River(1989), was the very first Canadian novel selected to be translated in France for Terre Indienne, a collection devoted to Native writing run by the French publisher Albin Michel. To launch the novel in 1997, the prestigious international literary festival Etonnants Voyageurs, held annually in May in Saint Malo, invited King as well as other Native writers such as James Welch to give readings. King also accepted my invitation to come and give talks and readings in nearby Rennes, where I was then teaching, both to a specialized audience of academics and graduate students and...

    • 2: “Wide-Angle Shots”: Thomas King’s Short Fiction and Poetry (pp. 35-54)
      Reingard M. Nischik

      Thomas king published his first short story in 1987 and his first poem in 1976. To date, two short story collections with altogether thirty of his stories have appeared, One Good Story, That One (1993) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (2005), as well as a few uncollected stories.¹ As for his poetry, he has published fifteen poems in journals and anthologies to date, too small a number for a collection in book form.² Thomas King is indeed mainly regarded as a novelist and as a short story writer. Although scholars have mostly dealt with his novels, it...

    • 3: “Turtles All the Way Down”: Literary and Cultural Criticism, Coyote Style (pp. 55-66)
      Robin Ridington

      I first encountered thomas king at a conference he organized at the University of Lethbridge in 1985, the year his supervisory committee judged his PhD thesis to be “satisfactory.” The conference, “The Native in Literature,” was a lively gathering of First Nations scholars, creative artists, and assorted critics. Stories emanating from the ladies’ washrooms extolled the conference organizer’s good looks and charisma. “This man may be a professor of Native Studies at a Canadian university,” I thought, “but he’s also a wily and beguiling coyote.” Conference participants included critics Terry Goldie, Katherine Shanley (then Vangen), Jarold Ramsey, and Barbara Godard,...

    • 4: Thomas King Meets Indigenous Convergent Media (pp. 67-83)
      Stuart Christie

      In academic circles, Thomas King is perhaps best known for his novels. Beyond such circles, however, he is arguably among the most media savvy of his generation of Indigenous writers; he has been particularly successful in writing across the media for popular audiences. For the better part of five seasons (1997–2000; 2006) King co-wrote and co-starred (along with Edna Rain and Floyd Favel) in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio One’s Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, a fifteen-minute morning radio segment produced by Kathleen Flaherty (see the contributions by Floyd Favel and producer Kathleen Flaherty in part 4 of this...

    • 5: Rewriting Genre Fiction: The DreadfulWater Mysteries (pp. 84-97)
      Julia Breitbach

      Under the whimsical pseudonym of Hartley GoodWeather, Thomas King has published two detective novels, or “mysteries,” to date. DreadfulWater Shows Up came out in 2002 as the first installment in a planned series of altogether four novels on Cherokee freelance investigator Thumps DreadfulWater. It was followed by The Red Power Murders: A DreadfulWater Mystery in 2006.¹ The original front cover of DreadfulWater Shows Up sported only the pseudonym, but the author’s true identity would have been evident to devoted readers of King’s work: a small photo on the back flap showed the author as film-noir sleuth, complete with trench, fedora,...

    • 6: “All My Relations”: Thomas King’s Coyote Tetralogy for Kids (pp. 98-110)
      Doris Wolf

      In her introduction to Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations, Kristina Fagan sums up trends in trickster studies, beginning in the late 1990s, when the trickster was a particularly fashionable topic in literary criticism on Aboriginal writing. In this early phase, Fagan emphasizes, most critics understood the figure as a timeless manifestation of “Indigenous tradition”: “From this perspective, we can see the pan-tribal trickster archetype offered a way of managing the issue of Indigenous ‘difference’ without requiring extensive research into the complexity of particular Indigenous peoples” (Fagan 2010, 5). Thus, in this incarnation, the trickster became whatever the critic wanted. Seeming...

  6. Part 2: Impact
    • 7: Is This the Indian You Had in Mind? The Reception of Thomas King (pp. 113-132)

      I’m not the indian you had in mind (2007), a short film that was written and directed by Thomas King, captures recurring themes in his critical and creative work. The film begins with King wheeling a carved wooden cigar-store Indian into the shot of a trendy urban loft, looking directly at the camera, and as he speaks the camera cuts away to the image of an oversized lens projecting images onto a silver screen. The poem is interspersed with footage from Hollywood westerns showing mounted Indians riding hard across the prairie, howling war cries and brandishing tomahawks. In both the...

    • 8: “Coyote Conquers the Campus”: Thomas King’s Presence in Education (pp. 133-146)
      Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber

      King’s importance to indigenous literatures is well established throughout Canada and the United States, and he is one of the bestknown Cherokee authors outside of North America. In his essays and fiction, King often challenges Western stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and provides literary concepts, characters, symbols, and narratives that more accurately represent the complex context of Indigenous literatures. Indeed, King’s works have been groundbreaking for the study of Indigenous issues not only in Canadian society, but also as they relate to colonial histories in countries around the world. However, although King’s works are often taught in schools, it is difficult...

  7. Part 3: Approaches
    • 9: King’s Contestatory Intertextualities: Sacred and Secular, Western and Indigenous (pp. 149-166)
      Marco Ulm and Martin Kuester

      As he grew up as the son of a Greek and Swiss mother and a Cherokee father, Thomas King’s childhood “involved a continual movement between communities and across various racial and cultural boundaries” (Davidson, Walton, and Andrews 2003, 4). The crossing of these borders equipped him with an acute understanding of how potentially harmful a dominant culture’s narratives may be for the members of a minority group (Andrews and Walton 2006, 603). In The Truth about Stories, a testimony to his keen awareness of the power of stories, King comments on the discursive legacy of non-Native writers in a North...

    • 10: Thomas King’s Humorous Traps (pp. 167-183)
      Aloys Fleischmann

      David Treuer translates this Wenabozho story by Rose Foss, an elder from the Mille Lacs reservation, to demonstrate a disconnect between Ojibwe oral tradition and the postmodern sensibilities of Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine (Treuer 2005, 31–32). For Treuer, this Wenabozho story moreover allegorizes the quest for “authentic Indigenous culture” that so often impels readers, critics, and even authors in the field of Indigenous literature. Smartberries—discrete, displaced packets of cultural knowledge—are but signs of the literature’s desire for a holistic, tribally specific cultural understanding, and should not be mistaken for an end in themselves.

      There is a...

    • 11: “Have I Got Stories—” and “Coyote Was There”: Thomas King’s Use of Trickster Figures and the Transformation of Traditional Materials (pp. 184-198)
      Mark Shackleton

      Thomas king’s engagement with trickster figures, Coyote in particular, has long roots. In his 1986 dissertation “Inventing the Indian: White Images, Native Oral Literature, and Contemporary Native Writers” King wrote: “If there is a need to understand a culture, and one can only hear a single story that the culture tells about itself, that story should probably be a creation story” (King 1986, 69), and of course Coyote was there at the beginning of things.¹ In his anthology of contemporary Canadian Native literature in English, All My Relations, he depicts the trickster as “an important figure for Native writers for...

    • 12: “One Good Story”: Storytelling and Orality in Thomas King’s Work (pp. 199-209)
      Blanca Schorcht

      Thomas king begins the 2003 Massey Lectures by saying:

      There is a story I know. It’s about the earth and how it floats in space on the back of a turtle. I’ve heard this story many times, and each time someone tells the story it changes. . . . One time, it was in Prince Rupert, I think, a young girl in the audience asked about the turtle and the earth. If the earth was on the back of a turtle, what was below the turtle? Another turtle, the storyteller told her. And below that turtle? Another turtle. And below...

    • 13: Maps, Borders, and Cultural Citizenship: Cartographic Negotiations in Thomas King’s Work (pp. 210-223)
      Katja Sarkowsky

      As numerous critics have pointed out, literal and metaphorical maps and mapping “are dominant practices of colonial and postcolonial cultures” (Ashcroft, Griffith, and Tiffin 2007, 28). Maps are a form of representation (“representational space,” as W. H. New has called them in Land Sliding), a construction of spatial relations and imagination, a form of control over space in the context of colonialism. But maps are also deployed as a strategy to counter hegemonic models of space. This is a central aspect for postcolonial societies, in which colonial inscriptions, for instance through cartography, are challenged and deconstructed in literary texts.


    • 14: One Good Protest: Thomas King, Indian Policy, and American Indian Activism (pp. 224-237)
      James H. Cox

      Thomas king published major works prior to and simultaneously with a shift in the primary focus of American Indian literary critical inquiry from issues of culture and identity to questions of history and politics. Much of the early scholarship on King’s fiction, therefore, approaches it with an interest in identities and storytelling strategies and assesses its cultural, multicultural, and crosscultural character. The attention to American Indian intellectual, activist, and tribal nation specific histories by Osage scholar Robert Warrior (1995), Cherokee scholar Jace Weaver (1997), and Muscogee Creek and Cherokee scholar Craig Womack (1999) shapes more recent critical work, for example,...

    • 15: “Sometimes It Works and Sometimes It Doesn’t”: Gender Blending and the Limits of Border Crossing in Green Grass, Running Water and Truth & Bright Water (pp. 238-254)
      Suzanne Rintoul

      Much of the criticism on Thomas King’s fiction focuses on border crossing, and rightly so: national boundaries, town lines, bridges, rivers, and myriad other signs point to in-between spaces where King renegotiates hierarchical binaries. The role of gender in relation to this motif, though, remains underexplored. King’s texts are full of gender-ambiguous characters, some of whom harness the power to revise the dominant discourses of Empire, but discussions of gender have nevertheless taken the proverbial backseat to discussions of race.¹ This is surprising, given that the intersectionality of race and gender has been well established in feminist and postcolonial theory...

  8. Part 4: Encounters
    • 16: Storytelling in Different Genres: A Conversation with Thomas King (pp. 257-280)
      Eva Gruber

      TK: Yeah, I’m sorry I said that about Germans. . . . At least they published my books in translation.

      EG: Yes, they did. Green Grass, Running Water and Medicine River.

      TK: I’m surprised they tried to do Green Grass, Running Water in German. I just cannot imagine.

      EG: It loses a lot. I discussed it in an article on translating Native literature, and a lot of the wordplay, it’s gone.

      TK: When they translated Medicine River into French, there was a point when one character calls the other character a fruit, and basically it’s a slang term for queer,...

    • 17: Thomas King and the Art of Unhiding the Hidden (pp. 281-288)
      Marlene Goldman

      I like to think that my education in deconstruction began in graduate school with Thomas King’s iconoclastic essay “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial.” King’s essay opens with a personal anecdote that seems, on first glance, easy enough to follow. He explains that by his first year of high school, he had already attained his full height. A coach, priding himself on his ability to spot talent, told King that he’d have a knack for basketball and that he should try out for the team. But, as it turns out, King wasn’t even mediocre; worse, his dismal career was cut short by an...

    • 18: The Truth about Thomas (pp. 289-301)
      Helen Hoy

      In august of 2010, my father and siblings were having a week-long reunion at an Amherst Island cottage, a preemptive alternative to seeing each other too often at funerals.

      “I’m writing this article about Thomas,” I said, one evening, “and collecting impressions. How would you describe him?”

      We were lounging around the darkish living room, with gin and tonics for some and Sudoku for others.

      “Tall,” said my sister Pauline.

      “Tall, awfully tall,” said my stepmother Joan.

      “He’s very useful,” said Pauline, “If you need something, he’ll build it.”

      “No, I mean, what he’s like, stories about him,” I said....

    • 19: Misdirection Is Still a Direction: Thomas King as a Teacher (pp. 302-311)
      Carter Meland

      The exalted Thomas King’s influence as a writer, lecturer, bon vivant, and harpoonist is well known and justly celebrated, but little is known about the glories he achieves as an educator. Who is Sir Thomas of King when in front of the student body and what kind of magnificent interventions does he make in the lives of those lesser than him? What sublimifications does he manifest in those he instructs?

      I asked my colleague Helga Blücher, lately of the faculty in Literary Greens at the University of Romainz and the author of Lettuce Be: Motifs of American Indian Sovereignty and...

    • 20: Tom King and the Dead Dog Café (pp. 312-313)
      Kathleen Flaherty

      Once upon a time I got a call from Thomas King saying he wanted to do an old-fashioned radio show. Since we had worked together before, on radio dramas he had adapted from his own stories, I knew he had a keen sense of radio. So we talked about what he meant by old-fashioned radio. He meant short plays with people talking directly to the audience from a single location. He meant cheesy sound effects created live in the studio. The show was going to be about contemporary life from a Native perspective. And from the perspective of someone who...

    • 21: Dead Dog Café: Being an Indian on Air (pp. 314-316)
      Floyd Favel

      Dead Dog Café. The success of this radio program is what could be called a cultural phenomenon, as it was an unexpected hit despite its low budget, a political climate where instead of the action of the Oka crisis we were numbed by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the show’s content and style. The program seemed to connect to a common goodness and sensibility of the general Canadian population and to meet the tastes of listeners to CBC radio and some Native radio stations, in particular to CHON FM in the Yukon. This was a surprise to me,...

  9. Part 5: Thomas King—A Bibliography
  10. Notes on the Contributors (pp. 345-350)
  11. Index (pp. 351-361)
  12. Back Matter (pp. 362-362)