Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 240
Course Title:
Introduction to Native American Literatures
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Studies literary arts and cultural expressions by Native American authors. Considers Native American literatures in their national, historical, cultural, geographical, political, and legal contexts. Prioritizes Indigenous experience, worldview, and intellectual traditions in the study of Native literatures. Prerequisites: WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Addendum to Course Description

English 240 inevitably encompasses such issues as multiculturalism, ethnic identification, social justice, racism, genocide, land ownership, environmental degradation, and many others.  Like most literature courses, English 240 ventures into the territory of many other disciplines, such as multimedia art, linguistics, political science, history, sociology, ethics, religion, geography, folklore, and anthropology.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Recognize the diversity and vitality of Native American experience and expression.
  2. Understand how a variety of Native literatures are influenced by the historical tensions between the United States and the Native peoples of this continent.
  3. Trace the incorporation of traditional Native stories or characters into the narrative production of contemporary writers.
  4. Recognize the influence of Indigenous languages, cultures, worldviews, legal histories, and intellectual traditions upon the literary productions of Native writers.
  5. Explain how various perceptions of Indigenous identity and nationhood shape Native literatures and scholarship.
  6. Recognize the varying genres of Native literatures and their relationships to the mainstream canon of Anglophone literature.

Course Activities and Design

Class meeting time consists of lecture, group discussion, and various other activities such as small group discussion, in-class writings, viewing and listening to video and audio recordings, and perhaps some guest speakers.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Instructors vary on methods of assessment, but often instructors employ some combination of quizzes, exams, essays, and reading notebooks.  The final grade is based upon the quality and extent of students' understanding of the course readings and discussions, as demonstrated in writings, discussion in class, and conferences.  Students who miss more than a week's worth of class may not receive an A; generally those who miss two weeks' worth of class may not pass the course.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

Some of the central concepts of the course include:

  • The importance of recognition.  All the primary texts read and discussed in this class are produced by Native American writers.  To be considered a Native American writer, an individual must be recognized by their Native communities as a tribal or community member.  English 240 does not study works produced by non-Native writers about Native themes.
  • €œNative American literatures€ is unique among the families of literature produced in the United States in that it is commonly described in the plural: €œliteratures.€  This plurality recognizes the inherent diversity of Native experience, nationhood, language, and culture.  Although no single class could possibly introduce students to the entirety of Native literary expressions across all times and places, English 240 recognizes and respects the long-standing diversity of Native verbal arts by considering €œliteratures€ in the plural and by exploring a range of texts from different times, places, media, and languages.
  • Native American literatures have existed for thousands of years, forming the foundations of narrative, performance, and expressive culture in what is now the United States.  However, contemporary ideas about €œNative American literatures€ in English are a relatively recent development.  Native authors have been writing and publishing in English since the 18th century, including a wave of creativity in the late-20th century often referred to as the €œAmerican Indian Renaissance.€  Course readings or viewings may include a range of works produced in Native languages, but the primary emphasis of study is contemporary work written or performed in English.
  • When literary criticism is incorporated into the course readings, students will be exposed to scholarship written by both Native and non-Native critics.  It is useful to compare Native and non-Native criticism and scholarship in order to understand how the literatures in question may be received differently by Native and non-Native audiences.

Suggested Texts:

The reading list should attempt to represent the variety of Native literatures, genres, and historical eras.  Some of the many possibilities:


€”Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country (1980).  Ed. Jarold Ramsey.

€”The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (1981).  Ed. Geary Hobson.

€”A Gathering of Spirit: A Collection by North American Indian Women (1984).  Ed. Beth Brant.

€”American Indian Myths and Legends (1985).  Ed. Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.

€”Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry (1988).  Ed. Duane Niatum.

€”Native American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology (1997).  Ed. Gerald Vizenor.

€”Native American Testimony (1999). Ed. Peter Nabokov.

€”Nothing But the Truth (2001)Ed. John L. Purdy and James Ruppert.

€”I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers (2005).  Ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat.

€”Reckonings: Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women (2008) Ed. Hertha D. Sweet Wong.

€”Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction (2012)Ed. Grace Dillon.

€”Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars Club (2012).  Ed. Chris Teuton.

Works by Individual Authors

€”Samuel Occum. €œSermon Preached on the Death of Moses Paul, an Indian€ (1772)

€”William Apess.  €œEulogy on King Philip€ (1836); On Our Ground, the Complete Writings of William Apess (1992)

€”John Rollin Ridge (Yellow Bird).  The Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854); Poems (1867)

€”Sarah Winnemucca.  Life Among the Paiutes (1883)

€”John Milton Oskison.  €œThe Problem of Old Harjo€ (1907)

€”E. Pauline Johnson.  Legends of Vancouver (1911); The Moccasin Maker (1913)

€”Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin).  American Indian Stories (1921)

€”Mourning Dove (Chrystal Quintasket / Humishuma). Cogewea (1927); Coyote Stories (1933)

€”D'Arcy McNickle.  The Surrounded (1936); Wind from an Enemy Sky (1978)

€”N. Scott Momaday.  House Made of Dawn (1968); The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969); The Names (1976); The Man Made of Words  (1997)

€”James Welch.  Riding the Earthboy 40 (1971); Winter in the Blood (1974); Fools Crow (1986); The Heartsong of Charging Elk (2000)

€”Leslie Marmon Silko.  Ceremony (1977); Storyteller (1981); Almanac of the Dead (1991); Gardens in the Dunes (2000)

€”Simon Ortiz.  From Sand Creek (1981); Woven Stone (1991)

€”Joy Harjo.  She Had Some Horses (1983); The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994); How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2001 (2004).

€”Louise Erdrich.  Love Medicine (1984); Tracks (1988); The Bingo Palace (1994); A Plague of Doves (2008); The Round House (2012)

€”Robert Conley.  The Witch of Goingsnake and Other Stories (1988); Cherokee Thoughts, Honest and Uncensored (2008)

€”Linda Hogan.  Mean Spirit (1990); Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (1995); Power (1998); The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir (2001)

€”Gerald Vizenor.  Griever: An American Monkey King in China (1986). Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990)

€”Ray Young Bear.  The Invisible Musician (1990); Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives (1992)

€”Thomas King.  Medicine River (1990); Green Grass, Running Water (1993); The Truth About Stories (2005); The Inconvenient Indian (2012)

€”Sherman Alexie.  The Business of Fancydancing (1992); The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993); Reservation Blues (1995); Flight (2007); Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories (2012)

€”Carter Revard.  An Eagle Nation (1993); Family Matters, Tribal Affairs (1998); How the Songs Came Down (2005)

€”Wendy Rose.  Going to War with All My Relations: New and Selected Poems (1993)

€”Susan Power.  The Grass Dancer (1994)

€”Janice Gould.  Earthquake Weather (1996)

€”Adrian C. Louis.  Ancient Acid Flahses Back (2000); Bone & Juice (2001)

€”Eden Robinson.  Monkey Beach (2000); €œTerminal Avenue€ (2004, published in So Long Been Dreaming, ed. Nalo Hopkinson)

€”Stephen Graham Jones.  The Bird is Gone:  A Manifesto (2003); Ledfeather (2008); Bleed into Me (2012)

€”Richard Van Camp.  The Lesser Blessed (2004)

€”William Sanders.  Are We Having Fun Yet?: American Indian Fantasy Stories (2005)

€”Eric Gansworth, Mending Skins (2005)

€”LeAnne Howe: Miko Kings (2007)

€”Joseph Boyden, Through Black Spruce (2010)

€”Blake M. Hausman.  Riding the Trail of Tears (2011)

€”Janet McAdams, Red Weather (2012)

€”Daniel H. Wilson.  Robopocalypse (2012)

€”Natalie Diaz.  When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012)

€”Deborah Miranda, Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (2013)

€”Elissa Washuta.  My Body Is a Book of Rules (2014)


€”Victor Masayesva, dir.  Imagining Indians (1992)

€”Chris Eyre, dir.  Smoke Signals (1998); Skins (2002); We Shall Remain (2008)

€”Zacharias Kunuk, dir.  Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

€”Sherman Alexie, dir.  The Business of Fancydancing (2002)

€”Sterlin Harjo, dir.  Barking Water (2009)

€”Charlie Soap and Tim Kelly, dirs.  The Cherokee Word for Water (2013).

Instructors new to the course should contact the Writing and Literature SACC chairs, the Faculty Department Chairs, or the Administrative Liaison person for further information. Other faculty members who have taught the course are valuable sources of information, especially when selecting literary criticism and other secondary sources.