24-1 “Communicating Yesterday’s Stories Today” Resource Guide

Aug 15th, 2012 | By | Category: 24-1: Communicating Yesterday's Stories Today, Online resource guides, Resource Guides, Web Exclusive
By Ryan Winn

Generally speaking, the act of Indigenous storytelling is a sacred practice that passes culture and wisdom from one generation to another. While there are some similarities among the storytelling practices of all Indigenous peoples, each tribe has unique methods of storytelling and attempts to generalize Indigenous storytelling as a whole are problematic. With this in mind, I have compiled a short list of resources for instructors looking for texts on storytelling. The list mostly focuses on recent texts, but includes a few dated resources that are necessary for this conversation.

My goal is to provide a launching pad for conversations about Indigenous stories and storytelling, and I hope those ideas will be shared and celebrated among as many people as possible.


Brill de Ramírez, S. B. (1999). Contemporary American Indian literatures and the oral tradition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

This book argues that because American Indian literature is written in the oral tradition, a reader must become a “listener-reader” who becomes “an active participant in the written stories.” The text goes on to state that the writer and reader co-create the stories much like the storyteller/audience member relationship formed in oral stories. The book uses decorated texts to argue its point, and it does so convincingly. The bibliography should not be overlooked; it contains a wealth of information.

Bruchac, J. (2003). Our stories remember: American Indian history, culture, and values through storytelling. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Joseph Bruchac is a master storyteller whose gifts know no limits or genre restrictions, and this book may be his greatest. In it, he uses examples to summarize the historical and contemporary importance of storytelling and explain how now is the perfect time to revitalize storytelling in all Native communities. The book is inspiring and is written by a man who understands the importance of stories.

Collins, R., & Cooper, P. J. (2005). The power of story: Teaching through storytelling. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

This is not an Indigenous storytelling guide, but I like that it explains storytelling to an audience that may not be aware of its power as a teaching tool. The book is filled with terms, activities, and resources for those wishing to find a Western perspective on the power of storytelling in a classroom. The book will be of most use to those who intend to use its methodology with children.

Frey, R. (Ed.). (1995). Stories that make the world: Oral literature of the Indian peoples of the Inland Northwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

This is an important text that collects traditional stories and tribal perspectives through anthropologic research. The stories are invaluable, but what I love about the volume is that the stories are arranged thematically and formatted to show inflection and pauses. Moreover, the illustrations provide readers with an enriched perspective of what the stories are conveying.

Geiogamah, H., & Darby, J. T. (1999). Stories of our way: An anthology of American Indian plays. Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

Without debate, contemporary American Indian Theater is an extension of the oral tradition, and this collection is a great introduction to the genre. The text collects plays from Hanay Geiogamah, Lynn Riggs, Diane Glancy, Bruce King, and even Spiderwoman Theater; moreover, it collects compelling scripts from a variety of genres and writing styles. I recommend every single text from UCLA’s Project HOOP, but this is the one I teach from every semester. The plays span 60 years’ worth of staging the oral tradition, and it is a must read for fans of storytelling.

Henry, G. D., Jr., Soler, N. P., & Martínez-Falquina, S. (Eds.). (2009). Stories through theories/Theories through stories: North American Indian writing, storytelling, and critique. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Equal in ambition to Louis Owens’s seminal work, Other destinies: Understanding the American Indian novel, this text begins with Gordon Henry’s essay, “Allegories of engagement: Stories/theories.” In the essay, Henry summarizes and examines the history of American Indian writers and the ways in which their texts engage with Western theoretical approaches. The collection includes essays that explore the bonds between theory and story, as well as the relationships among the writers, the readers, and the critics of contemporary Indigenous writings. This book also offers new approaches to thinking about the role of the biographer and the storyteller; that chapter alone is profound and worth the cost of the text.

Kenny, M. (Ed.). (1999). Stories for a winter’s night. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press.

Even though today it is only available through used book dealers, this collection of stories from multiple American Indian authors is my personal favorite. I used to teach it in my American Indian Literature course, and I reference it whenever I talk about storytelling both within and outside of the classroom. In short, the book collects close to forty stories from as many well-known and relatively unknown Native authors, and the stories range from funny to cautionary to inspirational. This collection is best read aloud around a fire.

King, T. (2005). The truth about stories: A native narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

This is the most important and most enjoyable text ever written about American Indian storytelling. It is impossible to talk to any Native scholar about storytelling and not reference this text. The text challenges and empowers readers by stating things such as, “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous,” yet King also engages his audience with humor and personal experience. This book will forever affect one’s views on stories.

Kroskrity, P. V. (Ed.). (2012). Telling stories in the face of danger: Language renewal in Native American communities. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

This collection of essays focuses on the importance of storytelling in language and cultural renewal in American Indian communities. The authors seek an academic audience, but the examples of efforts to revitalize communities, traditions, and education are captivating for all audiences. This is a book that could be used to jumpstart storytelling in a place where stories are not used to their potential.

Momaday, N. S. (1976). The way to rainy mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Before Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, only nine works of fiction attributed to American Indian writers had ever been published; hence, no list on American Indian storytelling would be complete without Momaday’s 1976 book. Moreover, he wrote this book in a style of great storytelling, shifting from descriptive to expressive to instructive styles, and blending them seamlessly to share Kiowa and Momaday’s family’s oral traditions. The book is narrow in length, but the scope and depth of the text warrants that its readers reread it over and over again.

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