Louis, Adrian C.
LOUIS, Adrian C.
PERSONAL: Born in NV; married. Ethnicity: "Paiute." Education: Attended University of Nevada—Reno; Brown University, M.A., 1983.
ADDRESSES: Home—MN. Offıce—Department of English, Southwest State University, 1501 State St., Marshall, MN 56258. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Poet, fiction writer, and educator. Wurlitzer Foundation, Taos, NM, resident fellow, 1977; Oglala Lakota College, Pine Ridge, SD, teacher of English, 1984-97; Southwest State University, Marshall, MN, teacher of English, beginning 1998. Formerly worked as a journalist; editor of tribal newspapers, including Lakota Times; Indian Country Today, managing editor.
MEMBER: Native American Journalists Association (cofounder).
AWARDS, HONORS: South Dakota Arts Council fellowship, 1989; San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award, 1989, for Fire Water World; Bush Foundation fellowship, 1990; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1992; fellowships from Nebraska Arts Council and Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund; Pushcart Prize; Nebraska Arts Council Distinguished Achievement Award, 1993; nominated twice for Print Journalist of the Year honors, National Indian Media Consortium; elected to Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, 1999; Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Writer of the Year, 2001, for Ancient Acid Flashes Back.
The Indian Cheap Wine Seance, photographs by Cleveland Winfield Kurtz, Gray Flannel Press (Providence, RI), 1974.
Muted War Drums, Blue Cloud Quarterly (Marvin, SD), 1977.
Sweets for the Dancing Bears, Blue Cloud Quarterly (Marvin, SD), 1979.
Fire Water World, West End Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1989.
Among the Dog Eaters, West End Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1992.
Blood Thirsty Savages, Time Being Books (St. Louis, MO), 1994.
(With Jim Northrup, Al Hunter, and Denise Sweet) Days of Obsidian, Days of Grace, Poetry Harbor Press, 1994.
Vortex of Indian Fevers, Triquarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 1995.
Ceremonies of the Damned, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1997.
Skull Dance, Bull Thistle Press (Jamaica, NY), 1998.
Ancient Acid Flashes Back, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2000.
Bone and Juice, TriQuarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 2001.
Evil Corn, Ellis Press (Peoria, IL), 2004.
Skins (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
Wild Indians and Other Creatures (short stories), University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 1996.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Akwasasne, Chicago Review, Circle, Contact/II, Cortland Review, Exquisite Corpse, Greenfield Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, New Letters, and Kenyon Review. Contributor to anthologies, including Identity Lessons: Contemporary Writing about Learning to Be American, Viking, 1998.
ADAPTATIONS: Skins was adapted for film by First-Look Pictures, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Adrian C. Louis is a Native American poet and fiction writer whose writing focuses on the racism, poverty, and alcoholism endured by Native Americans living on America's tribal reservations. A mixed-blood Lovelock Paiute who lived for several years on the Lakota Sioux's Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Louis expresses bitterness at the demoralization experienced by Native Americans as a consequence of assimilation, but that bitterness is balanced in his many volumes of free verse by humor, compassion, and a sensitivity to the responsibility Native Americans have for their own situation. Praising Louis's 1992 collection, Among the Dog Eaters, Leslie Ullman noted in the Kenyon Review that "Louis himself is a thorny, passionate presence, at once angry at his people, angry on their behalf, and very much a part of them." Demonstrating "his strength as witness and survivor," Ullman added, the poet "always seems to be running a finger across a hot blade in these poems, turning his pain and anger into a vitalizing force that bears witness to, and protests against, the devitalized world of his people."
Louis's Fire Water World was his first widely reviewed poetry collection. In the American Indian Quarterly, Craig Womack praised the work, calling Louis "a poet of considerable genius; his in-line rhymes undercut the sanctity of popular institutions, and his ability to turn around well-known phrases from pop culture to contrast Native values and dominant culture values is impressive." Noting that the poet's work is less grounded in Native American mysticism and tradition than that of his contemporaries, Womack praised Louis for positioning "his work squarely in the present and concentrat[ing] on the stories that inform our lives today," while also acknowledging the "on-going relevance of ancestral voices."
In other volumes of poetry, Louis has continued to weave traditional symbols and meaning into his vignettes illustrating modern life. In her review of his 1994 collection, Blood Thirsty Savages, Chelsea contributor Andrea Lockett characterized Louis's language as "sometimes raw, often lovely, stripped of illusions, and mired in the contradictions that mark the daily lives of an oppressed people surfing between two worlds." Other critics have also commented on his poetry of contrasts and social protest: Western American Literature contributor Paul Hadella noted that Louis "writes to dispel the romantic notion, so dear to New Agers and others, that Native Americans are the wise and innately spiritual children of nature." In an interview with Geronimo, Louis explained that, above social protest, his overall theme is "personal survival. I'm writing about my life." Commenting that he also hopes to give voice to those "who don't have a voice . . . the downtrodden," he also noted his frustration with an American culture that "was founded on violence." Calling the poet's language "loose and colloquial, frank and often obscene but also frequently eloquent," Robert L. Berner wrote in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal that Louis's verse, a "combination of contemporary sophistication and tradition wisdom," derives from the fact that his "awareness of traditional tribal values is offset by the sad knowledge that those values have been forgotten by so many."
In Wild Indians and Other Creatures Louis moves from poetry to short fiction, penning ten stories that combine traditional Native American trickster tales with contemporary dramas that highlight the social dysfunction of reservation life. The line between human and animal characters is often blurred, with characters bearing names like Coyote, Horse, and Old Bear. Characterizing the collection as "wild, sometimes foolish, sometimes poignant, often cartoony and sporadically brilliant," New York Times Book Review contributor David Bowman praised in particular Louis's story "Sunshine Boy," about a boy with Down's syndrome whose fascination with the sun ultimately blinds him.
Louis's novel Skins focuses on contemporary life on the Pine Ridge Reservation through his fictional protagonist Rudy Yellow Shirt. Rudy, a reservation policeman, suffers an awakening of sorts after hitting his head during a fall. Following the accident, he becomes a clandestine vigilante, his alternate persona becoming known as the Avenging Warrior as he takes independent and oftentimes violent action to correct some local injustices. In World Literature Today, Howard Meredith maintained that the novel's underlying purpose is to illustrate the intersection between Lakota tribal myth and American justice, showing how "fragmented abstract reasoning and the law coexist with the splintered traditional system of [Lakota] beliefs" to create a work wherein "myth, language, and perception are inseparable." Calling Skins "an ambitious book, often moving and urgent," Bloomsbury Review contributor Abigail Davis added that, despite the novel's humorous moments, Louis's protagonist "is a man in conflict. Faced with the daily despondency of reservation life, he looks for answers, for some way to assign blame. . . . his yearning for change is palpable to the reader."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Native North American Literature, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 391-395.
American Indian Culture and Research Journal, spring, 1993, Denise Low, review of Among the Dog Eaters, p. 189; Volume 20, number 1, 1996, Robert L. Berner, review of Vortex of Indian Fevers, pp. 259-263.
American Indian Quarterly, winter, 1993, Craig Womack, review of Fire Water World, p. 102; winter, 1994, Rhoda Carroll, review of Among the Dog Eaters, p. 92.
Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 1989, review of FireWater World, p. 17; May-June, 1993, Peter Thorpe, review of Among the Dog Eaters, pp. 5, 20-21; November, 1994, Peter Thorpe, review of Blood Thirsty Savages, pp. 7, 30; July, 1996, Abigail Davis, review of Skins, p. 14.
Booklist, September 1, 1992, Ray Olson, review of Among the Dog Eaters, p. 26; July, 1994, Ray Olson, review of Blood Thirsty Savages, p. 1917; April 1, 1995, Ray Olson, review of Vortex of Indian Fevers, p. 1374; July, 1995, Janet St. John, review of Skins, p. 1859; September 15, 1997, Ray Olson, review of Ceremonies of the Damned, p. 200; March 15, 2001, Ray Olson, review of Ancient Acid Flashes Back, p. 1349.
Chelsea, Volume 58, 1995, Andrea Lockett, review of Blood Thirsty Savages, pp. 168-169.
Geronimo, June, 1999, interview with Louis.
Kenyon Review, summer, 1993, Leslie Ullman, review of Among the Dog Eaters, pp. 182-196.
Library Journal, June 1, 1995, Sheila Riley, review of Skins, p. 164.
Midwest Quarterly, spring, 2003, Denise Low, review of Skins, p. 336.
New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1996, David Bowman, review of Wild Indians and Other Creatures, p. 36.
Progressive, January, 1998, Matthew Rothschild, review of Ceremonies of the Damned, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, May 29, 1995, review of Skins, p. 68; March 18, 1996, review of Wild Indians and Other Creatures, p. 59; November 19, 2001, review of Bone and Juice, p. 63.
Small Press, October, 1989, Larry Smith, review of Fire Water World, p. 85.
Southern Review, spring, 1993, Marilyn Nelson Waniek, "The Gender of Grief," pp. 405-419.
Western American Literature, summer, 1993, Paul Hadella, review of Among the Dog Eaters, pp. 163-164; fall, 1996, Paul Hadella, review of Vortex of Indian Fevers, pp. 285-286; winter, 2000, William John Pollett, review of Ceremonies of the Damned, pp. 471-472.
World Literature Today, July-September, 2003, Howard Meredith, review of Skins, p. 152; spring, 1997, Howard Meredith, review of Wild Indians and Other Creatures, p. 431; summer, 1998, Howard Meredith, review of Ceremonies of the Damned, p. 664; winter, 2001, Howard Meredith, review of Ancient Acid Flashes Back, p. 183; spring, 2002, Robert L. Berner, review of Bone and Juice, p. 241.*