Whether you opt for poetry, horror, fantasy, environmental nonfiction, or folklore, the 14 new books below will expand and enrich your understanding of the diverse Native communities in the United States, and introduce you to phenomenal writers whose work is art, activism, and wholly astonishing.
Bookseller Tove H. insists that sharing too much of the plot will spoil this deliciously creepy novel, but we’ll say this: Four Native men are being stalked by an ancient entity bent on punishing them for a childhood infraction against hunting traditions. In The Only Good Indians Jones turns the slasher trope into an investigation of the tensions between choosing reservation life and assimilation.
A taut and lyrical essay collection, Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground reflects on her binational childhood in the U.S. and on the Six Nations of the Grand River reservation in Ontario, Canada. Elliott details her own and her mother’s struggles with depression and the many traumas caused by systemic racism against Native peoples in both countries, particularly suicide and poverty. Elliott has a gift for unlikely metaphors, and shifts the forms of narrative address in fascinating ways, forcing the reader into different relationships with the material. If you read one personal essay collection this winter, Elliott’s is a worthy pick.
At 19, Noé Álvarez signed up for a four-month long-distance run that would take him from Canada to Guatemala alongside runners from Dené, Secwépemc, Gitxsan, Dakelh, Apache, Tohono O'odham, Seri, Purépecha, and Maya backgrounds. Spirit Run contains Álvarez’s reflections on the privations of endurance running, as well as on the Indigenous, Latinx, and immigrant peoples and stories intrinsic to the American national narrative, but rarely represented. A beautiful fusion of sports, nature, culture, and travel writing and memoir, Spirit Run is not to be missed.
This Town Sleeps follows Marion Lafournier, a young gay Ojibwe man who finds himself involved in a secret romance and a murder mystery. When a strange dog leads Marion to the grave of a murdered teen, he’s surprised to learn that spirits are real, and that a literal spiritual excavation of his family’s tumultuous history is in order. Atmospheric and wonderfully funny, This Town Sleeps is a quick but rich ghost story.
Noodin’s bilingual poetry collection, written in Anishinaabemowin and English, centers Anishinaabe reflections on nature and human history and relationships, moving from an exploration of the seasons, based on Anishinaabe science, to political works examining crises and environmental movements like Standing Rock. This beautiful book is perfect for readers interested in the revival of Indigenous languages, Anishinaabe philosophy and culture, or simply those captivated by the linguistic and cultural complexities of translation.
The staff love is piling up for the first book in Roanhorse’s fantasy series based on Aztec and Mayan mythology. In bookseller Doug C.’s words, “This remarkable book from the original and fresh voice of Rebecca Roanhorse is epic and personal all at once. A world completely new, yet born from the Native stories of the Americas. Characters that pull at your heart. Humor, sex, danger, adventure, intrigue, and in all its fantasy, filled with humanity.”
Like most of the books on this list, Weiden’s novel — a thriller, and the first in a series — combines immersive, imaginative storytelling with sociopolitical analysis of the United State's government’s maltreatment of Native peoples. In the fast-paced Winter Counts, justice-minded Virgil Wounded Horse finds himself enmeshed in a complex, multinational drug ring, a context that is surprisingly rich for Virgil’s barbed reflections on reservation life. If you’re looking for a quick read, look no further. If you’re looking for a nuanced portrait of modern Native identity, look no further. Weiden’s excellent page-turner has you covered on both fronts.
A novel in stories, Crooked Hallelujah follows four generations of women in a Cherokee family as they navigate their ways within and out of poverty, single motherhood, and romantic relationships. Kelli Jo Ford manages the difficult task of illuminating many of the hardships Native women face while celebrating the strength of matrilineal bonds and shining a bright light on the fortitude of her wonderful cast of characters.
It would likely be enough to state, “Louise Erdrich published a new novel this year,” and let her hordes of adoring fans sweep in for copies. But this lovely novel, based partly on Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, who fought for the Turtle Mountain Band’s tribal rights, is worth singling out for the deft way Erdrich weaves U.S. history, realism, and Native storytelling and symbolism into a deeply felt portrait of a community of passionate people struggling against racist politics and injustice.
This collection of the stories of the Lushootseed-speaking people of Puget Sound, edited by the late Upper Skagit elder and Lushootseed teacher Val Hilbert, uses figures like Coyote and Raven to offer moral instruction, poke fun at human nature, and issue guidance against tribal taboos. This is a wonderful resource for those interested in the Lushootseed language and PNW and Native folklore.
In this excellent history of Indigenous movements to protect tribal land, Estes ties modern efforts like the anti-pipeline movement at Standing Rock to the environmental arguments made Native leaders and activists as early as the U.S.-Indian wars. The result is a fascinating review of critical moments in Native history and a vital context for understanding current responses to threats to Native autonomy, land, and values.
Diaz tackles several large themes in her intellectually rigorous, dazzling second poetry collection: erotic love, environmentalism, drug addiction and mental illness, how racism is enacted and internalized, even basketball (Diaz is a former pro player). In direct but layered poems, Diaz asserts the value of human and environmental bodies and insists on the love due to each. You’ll read this work first for its deep emotional reach, and then over and over for the many meanings Diaz folds into each line.
U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, along with writers Howe and Foerster, brings us the first historically comprehensive anthology of Indigenous poetry, featuring poets representing almost 100 Indigenous nations. From a Native student at Harvard in the 1600s to current young luminaries like Natalie Diaz (see above!), When the Light gathers works from traditional oral literatures and modern poets, allowing readers to discover the continuities and shifts in Indigenous self-representation since the initial colonizing of America.
Curtice describes the process of decolonizing her evangelical faith by identifying the aspects of Christianity that are tied to oppression. While explicitly religious in its subject matter, Curtice’s descriptions of finding ways to involve everyone in this work — i.e, not just marginalized groups or individuals — resonates across today’s social justice movements, where listening and allyship are vital.