Great Books by Indigenous Authors

If you’d like to expand your reading list, try reading some fiction from well-known indigenous authors. We’ve compiled three of our favorites, encompassing both classic and contemporary titles.

We believe that the gift of reading is to stretch our minds in new directions, so we hope that this list helps you discover some indigenous authors.

There, There by Tommy Orange

Published in 2018, There, There by Tommy Orange is an excellent choice for a modern novel by a Native author. The novel is told from multiple perspectives with each character having one thing in common: a connection to the Big Oakland Powwow. There’s a wide cast of characters that include a newly sober Jacquie Red Feather; Dene Oxendene trying to honor his uncle’s memory; young Orvil performing traditional dance for the first time; and the Internet-obsessed Edwin Black whose half-Native ancestry drives him to search for his father.

The writing is rhythmic and powerful, offering lines that haunt the reader:

“We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.”

With its multiplicity of voices, There, There represents the complexity of the urban Native American experience, both its spirituality and beauty, as well as the destructive history of the Americas.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

While it might seem odd to include a 1977 novel on a modern recommended reading list, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony remains a classic not only for its evocative prose but also for its continued relationship to modern life.

Ceremony tells the story of Tayo, a WWII veteran recently returned to the Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. Tayo’s battle fatigue (now known as PTSD) and his biracial ancestry haunt him, and he undertakes a ritualized ceremony that reconnects him to the land and forces him to reckon with both his white and his native ancestries.

With jumps in place and time, Ceremony is a complex but satisfying story that speaks to modern worries: blurring racial identities, environmental destruction, and the threat of nuclear war.

Even with such bleak themes, Tayo’s journey helps the reader feel the beauty of the landscape and invites us to consider our own relationship to nature and to other people. The book is a healing ritual that leaves the reader with hope for the future.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

If you’re a plant-lover, or if you’ve wanted to develop a stronger relationship with the natural world, then get ready to be charmed by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of PlantsAs the title suggests, this essay collection combines Kimmerer’s ecological observations with an indigenous understanding of the value of plants.

Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Readers appreciate her ability to intertwine science with creative writing and indigenous knowledge.

The book’s title references “a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world,” likening the literary process to the physical braiding of sweetgrass, which requires cooperation.

The importance of community is a foundational aspect of these essays. The other recurring theme is reciprocity, a process of acknowledging the gifts the Earth gives and asking how we can give back. 

Kimmerer’s ability to work lessons into everyday interactions with plants helps the reader engage and put these insights into practice.

Braiding Sweetgrass is a wonderful book for readers who would like to deepen their relationships, either with the natural world or with other people.