Birchfield, D.L. 1948–

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Birchfield, D.L. 1948–

(Don L. Birchfield)

PERSONAL: Born July 10, 1948, in Atoka County, OK; son of Richard Lee Birchfield (a farmer, steelworker, minister, and missionary) and Lavenia McDaniel (a cosmetologist and missionary). Ethnicity: "Choctaw, Chickasaw, Welsh, Scots, Black, Dutch." Education: Mesa College, A.A., 1968; Western State College of Colorado at Gunnison, B.A., 1971; University of Oklahoma College of Law, J.D., 1975. Attended University of Colorado, University of Denver, U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, and Oklahoma City Community College. Religion: "Choctaw."

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Cherry Weiner Literary Agency, 28 Kipling Way, Manalapan, NJ 07726. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Author and professor of Native American studies. Attorney-at-law, 1976–83; freelance writer and editor, 1983–96; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, former instructor in English and American Indian studies, 1996–98; University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, associate professor of Native American studies, 2001–. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, visiting associate professor of Native American studies, 1998–99; University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, adjunct associate professor of humanistic studies and fiction writing, 2000–01.

AWARDS, HONORS: Hazel Butler Garms U.S. History Award, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1967; R.C. Walker Award, Daily Sentinel (Atlantic City, NJ), 1967; Balfour Award, 1968; fellowship in fiction writing, Jackson Hole Writers Conference, 1994; Outstanding Ability in Teaching Award, Cornell University American Indian Science and Engineering Society, 1997; named Writer of the Year, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers, 1997, for The Encyclopedia of North American Indians; Louis Littlecoon Oliver Memorial Prose Award, Native Writers' Circle of the Americas at the University of Oklahoma, 1997, for The Oklahoma Intelligence Test and Other New and Collected Elementary, Epistolary, Autobiographical, and Oratorical Essays; named Writer of the Year, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers, 2004, and Spur Award for Best First Novel, Western Writers of America, 2005, both for Field of Honor; University of Lethbridge Book Awards, 2004, for Raintree Biographies and "Native Peoples" series.



(Coeditor) Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry, Salmon Run Press (Anchorage, AK), 1994.

The Oklahoma Intelligence Test: New and Collected Elementary, Epistolary, Autobiographical, and Oratorical Choctologies, Greenfield Review Press (Greenfield Center, NY), 1998.

Field of Honor (novel), University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2004.

Black Silk Handkerchief: A Hom-Astubby Mystery (novel), University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2006.


Jim Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete, Modern Curriculum Press (Parsippany, NJ), 1994.

Tecumseh, Leader, Modern Curriculum Press (Parsippany, NJ), 1994.

(Reteller) Rabbit: American Indian Legends, additional text by Vic Warren, illustrated by Diana Magnuson, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) The Encyclopedia of North American Indians, eleven volumes, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1997.

Acoma: The Sky City, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1999.

Crazy Horse, Raintree Steck-Vaughan (Austin, TX), 2003.

Apache, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2003.

Sioux, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2003.

Sacagawea, Raintree Steck-Vaughan (Austin, TX), 2003.

Seminole, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2003.

(With Sabrina Crewe) The Trail of Tears, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.

Navajo, Gareth Stevens Publishers Milwaukee, WI), 2004.

Comanche, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.

Cheyenne, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.

Cherokee, Gareth Stevens Publishers (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.


How the People Found a Home, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1997.

The Man Searching for the Sun, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1997.

How the Mice Stole Fire, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1999.

When the Sun Fell from the Sky, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1999.


Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Earth Song, Sky Spirit: Stories of the Contemporary Native American Experience, Anchor (New York, NY), 1993; and Blue Dawn, Red Earth: Contemporary Native American Storytellers, Anchor, 1996. Contributor of poems to anthologies, including A Multicultural Reader: Collection One, Perfection Learning (Logan, IA), 2002. Contributor of articles to reference books, including Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995; Peoples of the World, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1999; Native American Tribes, Thomson Gale, 1999; and Rain Forest Encyclopedia, Marshall Cavendish, 2001. Editor of OKC Camp Crier, 1987–88; General editor of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians; guest coeditor of special issue of Callaloo; editorial consultant to university presses. Contributor of articles, short stories, creative nonfiction, poetry, and reviews to periodicals, including Roundup, News from Indian Country, Studies in American Indian Literatures, Raven Chronicles, Moccasin Telegraph, Four Directions, Eclectic Literary Forum, Aboriginal Landscapes, and Native Press Research Journal.

WORK IN PROGRESS: The Choctaw Nation: A History, for University of New Mexico Press; Bridle Fee: A Hom-Astubby Mystery, volume two in the "Hom-Astubby Mystery" series, for University of Oklahoma Press; a university textbook providing an introduction to Native American studies; and "a third volume in the 'Hom-Astubby Mystery' series; an historical novel reevaluating the most forgotten presidential election in U.S. history; a murder mystery set in the world of the U.S. Chess Federation, Swiss-system, weekend chess tournaments; other novels and academic projects."

SIDELIGHTS: A member of the Choctaw Nation, D.L. Birchfield is a teacher of fiction and Native American studies at a Canadian university. He has also authored numerous nonfiction titles for juvenile readers dealing with topics in Native American history and served as editor for the eleven-volume The Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Writing for adults, he produced the 2004 novel Field of Honor.

Birchifield's many books for younger readers include several volumes in the "Native American Peoples" series from the publishers Gareth Stevens. Each thirty-two-page book deals with a specific nation of Native Americans, providing historical background, sidebars, highlighted information, and numerous color illustrations. Reviewing Cherokee, Cheyenne, and Comanche, S.K. Joiner, writing for School Library Journal, commented that "each book is full of information for reports." In a review of other books in the series, including Birchfield's Apache, Joiner further noted that they are "solid sources for both current and historical information about each nation." Writing for the "Raintree Biographies" Series, Birchfield traces the major incidents in the life of a famous Native American leader in his Crazy Horse. Sue Sherif, writing for School Library Journal, felt the books in the series "offer quick overviews of the lives of these American icons." Serving as editor, Birchfield oversaw the production of the eleven volumes of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Despite its name, the volumes also deal with indigenous people of Mexico, Central and South America, and even Greenland and the Caribbean. Birchfield enlisted forty Native Americans to take part in the project, an effort to bring the lives of Native Americans out of the dry history books and into the modern world. This "unique undertaking," as a Booklist contributor described the project, includes plentiful illustrations with alphabetical entries geared for readers from the middle grades to young adult. The same Booklist reviewer felt that "entries present basic information in a readable format," and that Birchfield "has taken care to blend contemporary and historical illustrations." Overall, this reviewer concluded, The Encyclopedia of North American Indians is "an extremely useful addition." Similarly, John Burch, writing in Library Journal, called the work "lavishly illustrated," and praised the "multicultural perspective that will enhance the juvenile or general reference collections of any library."

Birchfield has also turned his hand to adult fiction. His Field of Honor is a "mix of biting satire and science fiction," according to Booklist reviewer Deborah Donovan. The novel follows the adventures and misadventures of McDaniel, a Marine and half Choctaw, who hides out in Oklahoma after having deserted during the Vietnam War. In Oklahoma he discovers an underground (literally) community of Choctaw who have fled into subterranean caverns to escape the destruction of their culture by the dominant white culture above ground. In this society, McDaniel learns of the extent of destruction to his native community. Though Donovan called Birchfield's first novel "over-the-top," she also felt his "message is impossible to ignore."

Birchfield told CA: "As a high school sophomore in the early 1960s I became intensely aware of the vicarious pleasures I derived from reading fiction, when I sustained a badly broken leg in sophomore football practice that curtailed many of my activities, and after I had broken away from my parents' new religion (after having practically lived at church for five years, after my parents had become neophyte converts when I was ten years old—old enough to remember life before church). At that time, when I was fifteen, I decided (as a long-range goal and as an avocation) that I wanted to find out if I could learn how to write fiction. Accordingly, on my own, throughout high school, I haunted libraries, reading books on the craft of fiction, and Writer's Digest and Writer magazines. I studied Writer's Market and read biographical sketches of writers (such as in CA), and autobiographies by writers. I paid the most attention to what writers had to say about their careers.

"I don't labor under any illusions that any of my novels might change the world in any way, but I have some things to say, and I want readers to be entertained. So I strive to try to seduce a reader into wanting to turn the pages. I try to enable readers to lose themselves, vicariously, in a fictional world where they will want to find out what happens next, and, along the way, become aware that I am sharing my view of some things.

"In Field of Honor, I tried to communicate what that process of disillusionment felt like. The vehicle for that was to take an exaggerated caricature of a teenager from the early sixties (with an exaggerated 1950s American worldview), put him in isolation for more than a decade, and then thrust him into the world of the mid-1970s with his 1950s mental constellation still intact, where he would be an out-of-place coming-of-age baby boomer (having missed all the watershed moments of his generation—the Kennedy assassinations, Vietnam War, civil rights movement, urban riots, Watergate, etc). He's a character I would hope baby boomers might connect with emotionally, and root for, while fearing it is surely going to end badly for him, because he represents what we used to be, long ago, and we know what happened to us. He's too out of place in the mid-1970s, and what he tries to do in the book is dangerous. My generation learned that the hard way, but this guy possesses some remarkable qualities that might make him equal to the task, and I'd hope that possibility might remind us of how we were in those coming-of-age moments when we possessed some remarkable qualities that made us willing to put ourselves on the line. I'd hope it might speak to other baby boomers, and that other generations might come away from it having learned something about what it was like to be a baby boomer, at least for many of us.

"I was astonished to learn that I could write humor—satire. For me it was a cathartic discovery because my writing was propelled by anger, bordering on rage, at having learned the history of what the United States has done to my Choctaw people. That my literary response to that has turned out to be humor has been the biggest surprise of my life. I credit the catharsis of humor with preserving my sanity and prolonging my life. Otherwise, I would have burned out, or stressed out, or simply disintegrated, long ago.

"I've also been more than a little surprised at producing novels for adults, as my ambition at the outset, as a teenager, was pretty much limited to hoping to write YA novels in the juvenile outdoor adventure tradition of authors such as Stephen W. Meader and Jim Kjelgaard, having grown up spending a lot of time in the remote backwoods of the Choctaw country of southeastern Oklahoma and knowing that world very well (where my Choctaw relatives lived literally at the end of the road in the Ouachita Mountains, didn't own cars, didn't have electricity or running water or indoor toilets, cooked on a wood-burning stove and still lived a subsistence lifestyle largely dependent on hunting and fishing).

"I cut my teeth on genre fiction as a preteen and a teenager and have never seen any conflict in employing genre-fiction techniques in attempting to write stories that are otherwise not genre fiction. Those techniques are, as a matter of craft, extremely difficult to master, but I believe an author has an obligation to employ every trick known to the craft to seduce a reader into turning the pages. I don't agree with some academics who scoff at those techniques. I don't disparage the fiction many of them write, much of it experimental in ways that will only have a limited appeal. What they do is important and helps all of us, but many of them have little choice but to publish in journals that have 700 libraries for subscribers, and few readers. I would rather have readers.

"I had the luxury of writing rough drafts of novels, then putting them aside for years while I thought about the storylines and matters of craft related to that, before taking any of them up again and trying to execute any revisions. I did that again and again, at intervals, for a long time. In the meantime, I tried to learn how to write poetry, short stories, plays, reviews, literary criticism, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, anything from which I might learn something about writing, and I published a lot of that in small journals. In my reading I looked for anything that might show me how something might be done that might solve some problem that had me hung up in some novel I was writing, discovering potential solutions in works ranging from The Clouds by Aristophanes, to The Crucible by Henry Miller.

"I've learned that one of the most effective creative tools for me is to burden a novel with artificial limitations that I don't like and that I don't want to deal with. Forcing myself to try to figure out ways to overcome those limitations has sometimes led to creative solutions that I never otherwise would have imagined, which can have the power of being transformational for a story, suggesting other revisions that can end up making it truly distinctive. It's a long, difficult process, but my hope is that at some point in any of my novels a reader familiar with my work would have an awareness that nobody else could have written that novel.

"I can't begin to tell you how much it meant to me just to get my first novel published, let alone for it to be well received. For all those many years, I was aware that if the things I was trying to do didn't work out, I'd have no one to blame but myself, because I'd insisted on trying to figure out how to do it on my own, mostly when I was a teenager. There were a lot of times during those long years that I had ample reason to second-guess myself."



The Oklahoma Intelligence Test: New and Collected Elementary, Epistolary, Autobiographical, and Oratorical Choctologies, Greenfield Review Press (Greenfield Center, NY), 1998.


Bloomsbury Review, May-June, 1996, review of Rabbit: American Indian Legends, p. 15.

Booklist, September 1, 1997, review of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians, p. 164; January 1, 2000, Dona Helmer, review of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians, p. 960; May 1, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of Field of Honor, p. 1544.

Library Journal, May 1, 1997, John Burch, review of The Encyclopedia of North American Indians, p. 96.

School Library Journal, March, 2003, Sue Sherif, review of Crazy Horse, p. 214; September, 2003, S.K. Joiner, review of Apache, p. 222; May, 2004, S.K. Joiner, reviews of Cherokee, Cheyenne, and Comanche, p. 162; June, 2004, Susan Shaver, review of The Trail of Tears, p. 158.

Small Press Review, winter, 1995, Julie Parson-Nesbitt, review of Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry, p. 80.


Wordcraft Circle Web site, (August 13, 2005), "D.L. (Don) Birchfield, Choctaw."