King, Thomas 1943-
King, Thomas 1943-
(Hartley Goodweather, Thomas Hunt King)
PERSONAL: Born April 24, 1943, in Sacramento, CA; son of Robert Hunt and Kathryn K. King; married Kristine Adams, 1970 (marriage ended, 1981); partner of Helen Hoy; children: Christian, Benjamin Hoy, Elizabeth. Education: California State University, Chico, B.A., 1970, M.A., 1972; University of Utah, Ph.D., 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Photography.
ADDRESSES: Office—MacKinnon Bldg. 418, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada. Agent—Westwood Creative Artists, 94 Harbord St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6, Canada; Lisa Bankoff, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Photojournalist in Australia and New Zealand. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, director of Native studies, 1971-73; California State University, Humboldt, associate dean for student services, 1973-77; University of Utah, coordinator of History of the Indians of the Americas program, 1977-79; University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, assistant professor of Native studies, 1979-89; University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Minneapolis, associate professor of American and Native studies, 1989, chair of Native studies; University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, from first associate professor to professor of English.
AWARDS, HONORS: Writer’s Guild of Alberta Best Novel Award, and PEN/Josephine Miles Award, both for Medicine River; American Indian Film Festival Best Screenplay award, for Medicine River; Canadian Authors Award Fiction, for Green Grass, Running Water; Aboriginal Media Arts Radio Award, for “Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour.”
(Editor, with Cheryl Dawnan Calver and Helen Hoy) The Native in Literature: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, illustrated by Jay Belmore, ECW Press (Canada), 1987.
(Editor) All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 1992.
Medicine River (fiction; also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
A Coyote Columbus Story (for children), illustrated by William K. Monkman, Douglas & McIntyre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.
Green Grass, Running Water (fiction), Houghton (Boston, MA), 1993.
Medicine River (screenplay; based on the book of the same title), Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC-TV), 1993.
Medicine River (radio drama; based on the book of the same title), CBC-Radio, 1993.
One Good Story, That One (short stories), Harper (New York, NY), 1993.
Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour (radio series), CBC-Radio, 1996-2001.
Coyote Sings to the Moon (for children), Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998, WestWinds Press (Portland, OR), 2001.
Truth and Bright Water, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2000.
(Under pseudonym Hartley GoodWeather) DreadfulWater Shows Up (mystery novel), HarperFlamingo-Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.
Coyote’s New Suit (for children), illustrated by Johnny Wales, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
A Short History of Indians in Canada: Stories, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
Also author of introduction, An Anthology of Short Fiction by Native Writers in Canada, a special issue of Canadian Fiction magazine, 1988. Contributor of poems to periodicals, including Canadian Literature, Soundings, Whetstone, and Tonyon Review. Contributor of articles and reviews to numerous periodicals, including Journal of American Folklore, Globe and Mail, Choice, Western Historical Quarterly, Western American Literature, and Studies in American Indian Literatures.
SIDELIGHTS: Typically classified as a writer of Native Canadian fiction, Thomas King is known for works in which he addresses the marginal status of Native peoples, delineates “pan-Indian” concerns and histories, and attempts to abolish common stereotypes about Native Americans. In World Literature Today, Branko Gorjup called King “undoubtedly one of Canada’s most respected native writers.” Gorjup added that “[King’s] fiction—at a time when fiction is often used by militant authors for overt political reasons—is humorous, magical, and unpretentious, refusing to take itself seriously yet always mindful of the reader’s intelligence.”
Born in Sacramento, California, King is of Greek and Native American descent. His father, who was of Cherokee origins, abandoned the family when King was only a child. Although King visited his Cherokee relatives in Oklahoma as a youth, he was primarily raised in non-Native communities. After graduating from high school, he traveled abroad, eventually working as a photojournalist in New Zealand and Australia. During this time he began writing, but he describes these early attempts as “real pukey stuff.” Returning to the United States, King entered college, earning a B.A. and M.A. in English from California State University in the early 1970s and a Ph.D. in American studies and English in 1986 from the University of Utah. He resumed writing while doing doctoral work and teaching at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
A citizen of Canada—the setting for most of his works—and the United States, King has since taught in both countries and acknowledges that Natives are his primary audience. Nevertheless, he questions attempts to define him solely as a Canadian Native writer: “There’s only a problem in the sense that I am not originally from Canada, and the Cherokee aren’t a Canadian tribe. Now that becomes a problem only if you recognize the particular political line which runs between Canada and the U.S., and if you agree with the assumptions that that line makes.”
The exclusion of Native Americans from white society, history, and culture is a theme in many of King’s writings. For example, Medicine River focuses on Will, a mixed blood of Blackfoot descent. Returning to his hometown of Medicine River, Alberta, where he works as a photographer, Will must come to terms with the alienation he feels within his circle of family and friends as well as the stereotypes projected on—and at times perpetuated by—Native Americans. A cycle of vignettes and an intimate portrait of small-town life, Medicine River tries to subvert misconceptions about Natives while including such traditional Native characters as the coyote trickster figure.
The coyote persona, which has the power to create and destroy, is also prominently featured in A Coyote Columbus Story, a children’s book that relates the creation of the world and the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus from a Native perspective, and in King’s 1993 novel, Green Grass, Running Water. Incorporating shifting viewpoints and a convoluted, circular storyline, Green Grass, Running Water follows, in part, the actions of four ancient Indian spirits. Perceived by whites as insane and aged, these spirits have been confined to a mental institution from which they periodically escape in order to “fix” the world. In this instance, they hope to prevent an environmental catastrophe from occurring in the small Canadian town of Blossom. The novel also concerns several members of the Blackfoot nation who reside in Blossom, their interpersonal relationships, their attempts to make a living in the white world, and their ongoing debate over a proposal to build a hydroelectric dam in the region. King’s skill as a humorist and satirist is evident in this work—one character runs a highly profitable restaurant by claiming to sell “hound burgers” to white tourists. In another instance, the Indian spirits rewrite Hollywood history by “colorizing” old black-and-white Westerns and allowing the Indian “savages” to triumph over John Wayne and the United States Calvary.
Irony, colonization, assimilation, and the oral tradition are also central to King’s 1993 short story collection, One Good Story, That One, which has been praised for its use of Native American dialect. The critically acclaimed title story, for instance, relates an elderly Native’s attempts to hoodwink anthropologists by trying to pass off a comic version of the Judeo-Christian creation myth as authentically Native. Juxtaposing Christian and Native religious imagery with references to popular culture, the narrator recalls the actions and motivations of the practical woman Evening, the dimwitted Ah-damn, and their angry, selfish god. Gorjup declared the story collection “an excellent sampling of [King’s] remarkable talent… an exquisitely crafted, authentically grounded, and very funny collection.”
In 2000, King published Truth and Bright Water, a story that centers on a fifteen-year-old Native boy, Tecumseh, and his life on the prairie at the border between Canada and the United States. King uses Tecumseh and his friends to illustrate “a state of spiritual malaise in contemporary life,” according to John Bemrose in Maclean’s, as the boys must contend with environmental degradation and family violence. Bemrose noted that the novel “hints at darker realities in Tecumseh’s life,” and the critic also credited King with “a light, whimsical touch” and “a droll surrealistic streak that has one character… painting the exterior of his own house with such subtle landscape scenes that it vanishes into the prairie.”
King’s interest in the character of the coyote continues in his book Coyote Sings to the Moon, which was first published in 1998. In this instance, instead of retelling a classic or lesser-known folk tale, King heads into new territory, penning a wholly original story. The coyote wishes to join the other animals as they sing songs of praise in honor of the moon, but the animals refuse to allow him to participate, claiming his tenor voice is too awful, and that the moon will disappear in an effort to escape the noise. Their refusal hurts the coyote’s feelings and he lashes out, insisting the light of the moon is too bright and keeps him awake, so if it vanishes that would be fine with him. However, the moon hears the coyote’s claim, and the insult drives her away. When all the animals go in search of her, it is ultimately the coyote who finds her hiding place, and only his song is strong enough to chase her back to her rightful place in the sky. In School Library Journal, Linda M. Kenton commented that the book is “far too long to be read aloud.” Heather Myers, in a review for Resource Links, observed that “the text is often wordy and the plot overcomplicated, with the result that the story sometimes loses momentum,” particularly when related to the more classic retellings of coyote stories. However, she also noted that the book “offers plenty of scope for lively reading aloud, with varied sound effects to represent the contribution of all the animals to the song.”
With Coyote’s New Suit King returns once more to the realm of coyote folklore and fables. In this story, which has a far lighter and more mischievous tone than King’s previous coyote book, the coyote is feeling rather proud of himself as he believes that his “suit” is the finest in the forest. Then the raven informs him that his coat is actually quite ordinary when compared to those of some of the other animals living nearby, such as the bear. Coyote goes to check out the animals’ coats as they lay them aside to go swimming. Discovering each to be more marvelous than the last, he takes them. When the animals emerge to find their coats missing, the raven sends them to the human camp, where the people have put their clothing out on a line. He sends the people, now in just their underwear, to the coyote when they discover their clothes have disappeared. Although their own clothes are nowhere in sight, the humans find that the coyote is selling marvelous furs at a yard sale. Only when the humans in furs meet the animals in clothing does the situation begin to clear up, and all that is left is to determine who gets the blame. Resource Links critic Nancy Ryan dubbed King’s effort “a hilarious and entertaining story about the consequences of wanting more than you really need.”
King uses the pseudonym Hartley Goodweather for his first venture into the mystery genre, DreadfulWater Shows Up. The book features Cherokee protagonist Thumps DreadfulWater, a former California cop who is now working as a photographer in the Pacific Northwest. He is primarily interested in fine art photography, but he makes ends meet by shooting crime scenes for the local police. When a corpse shows up at the tribe’s new casino resort, Thumps gets dragged into the action thanks to his girlfriend’s son, who is named as a suspect. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented: “King’s wry humor… goes over well, as does Thumps’s laconic but effective investigative style.” A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised King’s “unerring knack for converting social, racial, and economic conflict into blissful farce.”
The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative is a series of lectures about how stories help to shape the ways in which people look at the world. King focuses particular on native folklore and oral storytelling traditions. Chris Teuton, in a review for World Literature Today, called King’s effort a “graceful, even seductive book of essays about storytelling.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of DreadfulWater Shows Up, p. 885.
Maclean’s, November 8, 1999, John Bemrose, “A Canoe Trip to Bountiful: Two Novels of Summer Tread Fictional Water,” review of Truth and Bright Water, p. 92.
Publishers Weekly, July 21, 2003, review of Dreadful-Water Shows Up, p. 177.
Resource Links, February, 1999, Heather Myers, review of Coyote Sings to the Moon, p. 3; April, 2005, Nancy Ryan, review of Coyote’s New Suit, p. 4.
School Library Journal, October, 2002, Linda M. Kenton, review of Coyote Sings to the Moon, p. 115.
World Literature Today, winter, 1995, Branko Gorjup, review of One Good Story, That One, p. 201; November 1, 2006, Chris Teuton, review of The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative, p. 75.
University of Gelph,http://www.uoguelph.ca/ (October 26, 2003), faculty profile of Thomas King.*