Born 1950; children: Tommy Nothing Fancy (deceased), Crow Dog, Awee (deceased), (adopted sons).
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer. Worked variously as a journalist and teacher.
The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams: A Memoir, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (memoir) Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The first of Nasdijj's autobiographical works is The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams. He explains on the dust jacket that Nasdijj is "Athabaskan for 'to become again.'" He uses the single name from the linguistic group that includes Apache and Navajo because he does not want to write about tribal culture under his real name. The book is several things. It is the memoir of a very hard childhood, of one man's determination to become a writer, and a tribute to a young son who never lived beyond childhood.
The son of migrant workers, Nasdijj was physically and sexually abused by his white cowboy father, who also sold his mother to other men for a few dollars. Because she was a heavy drinker during her pregnancy with Nasdijj, he was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (F.A.S.), which significantly affected his health and left him with very poor vision, learning disabilities, and a constant battle with depression.
Nasdijj wrote as a child, hiding in barns and farm machinery in the migrant camps. He wrote dozens of journals and eventually as many novels, none of which he was able to publish. His early work was destroyed when found, and he was forced back into the fields.
High school friends, including Bad Nell and Frankie, are introduced in the book, and then reintroduced as adults. Nasdijj lived on a cultural edge; although he looks white, he identifies with the Navajo heritage his mother claimed. Much of his life was spent on reservations, where his whiteness was often a cause for suspicion. He married, and he and his wife adopted a Navajo boy, Tommy Nothing Fancy, who they soon realized also suffered from F.A.S. Nasdijj loved and dedicated himself to Tommy, whose health deteriorated rapidly, and while they were on a fishing trip, the boy suffered a seizure and died. He was six years old. The title chapter of the book, about Tommy, was published in Esquire to considerable acclaim. It is the most painful section of the book and one that the author finally refused to read at literary events.
In reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, Ted Conover wrote that "this is an outsider's book; Nasdijj has sympathy for the downtrodden and anger toward the world that marginalizes them. In these pages we meet Native Americans and others who, like the author, don't fit stereotypes: A Navajo bull rider with AIDS, a pair of young Sioux heroin addicts, male prostitutes in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, a delinquent Indian teenager he mentors, the author's deaf cousin whose depth, not his debility, is insisted upon." Conover noted that the author doesn't provide the names of his wives, nor does he talk about any living relatives. Conover said that "while Nasdijj exposes a pain so deep in the Tommy chapters that he breaks your heart, he is stingy with other self-revelation.… Yet this is a fascinating book, unlike anything you are likely to have read.… his book reminds us that brave and engaging writers lurk in the most forgotten corners of society."
Salon.com's Maria Russo observed that the "singular language" of the memoir "blends Native American mythological rhythms and imagery, stirring Whit-manesque catalogs and unadorned observations about life on and around the reservation. Nasdijj's terse, elemental sentences don't so much follow one another as nestle on top of the next, like a desert rock formation. His anger at the 'white people world' just about reaches off the page and shoves you, and yet there's a disciplined quality to his fury. For all its descriptions of drunken violence and crushing poverty, the book has a gentleness at its core."
A cowboy dying of AIDS had a last chance to view horses in the desert when Nasdijj rented a wheelchair and took him there. When Nasdijj was living, homeless, at a campground, he befriended a desperate woman, took her daughters to the library, and bought them new dolls when he received an unexpected check. Nasdijj's homelessness led to his asthma and brushes with death. His feet became permanently damaged from frostbite, and he lost the feeling in his fingers and tongue. Nasdijj recalls his four-hundred-mile walk across New Mexico to the Bosque Redondo, recreating the forced march by the U.S. military of the defeated Navajo, which resulted in deaths from starvation and illness, and death by bullet of those too weak or old to continue on.
Christopher D. Ringwald wrote in Washington Post Book World that "much as a drumming circle or meditative chanting may bring participants to an altered state, Nasdijj's repetitious, episodic style taps a deeper conscious." Kliatt's Edna M. Boardman found that Nasdijj, "who once had a novel about Indians returned torn into small pieces by an editor, does indeed touch the heart. He may be one of America's great writers today."
The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping is also autobiographical and a remembrance of an adopted son named Awee, who died of AIDS. He and Nasdijj shared similar pasts. Both had been raised by drunken parents, beaten, and raped. Martin Naparsteck wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune Online that "some pages … will shred your heart. Some will boil your blood. Seldom has one book contained so much pain and anger and so thoroughly drawn the reader into its emotional sandstorm. This memoir of an angry, defiant father waiting for his adopted son to die from AIDS is extraordinarily difficult to read. It is a book that required great courage to write."
Nasdijj had adopted his son Crow Dog, who also suffered from F.A.S., when he was approached by a Navajo couple who had heard of his kindness. They were both near death from AIDS, and they begged him to take their eleven-year-old son, Awee. Nasdijj took the boy and raised him, but on his own terms. He did not force him to go to school, and although he brought him to the hospital for medical care, he regretted that he subjected Awee to the needle sticks and poking and being tied to the bed so that he would not pull out his catheter. As with Tommy, the lack of adequate medical care on the reservations negatively impacted the condition of the boy.
Nasdijj took him on a tour of the Southwest on a motorcycle, which he eventually sold to pay medical bills. He arranged to have him experience sex with a gentle young man and gave him marijuana, then heroin to ease his pain. He cleaned up his messes and watched bravely as Awee fought the disease that was wasting his body. At the same time, Awee reached out to Nasdijj, becoming parent to the suicidal man who was agonized by his inability to halt the disease's progress.
Michael Robertson reviewed the book for the Austin Chronicle Online, noting that this is not your usual AIDS memoir book. "Nasdijj rough-hews the English language until it takes stunning forms. He dismisses narrative linearity because memory is 'the exploded junk from hand grenades' and words become the most elemental stuff, crushed rock and flowers to sift through his fingers with a disciplined intensity."
L. W. Milam, who reviewed The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping for the Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities online, wrote that he closed the book on page 318, choosing not to finish it, not "to read the words of this sad writer of his great love that tears us up more than it should." "To hell with dying and the sadness of it all," commented Milam, who added, "Let someone else read the last pages, because if I go to the very end, the author will have taken something from me, and I am not so sure that he should be allowed to do this to me, to the boy with 'black desert eyes,' to take him from us in such a fashion so that we are pissed at the disease and the world that lets this disease go on and the world that won't take the time nor the money to stop this death of children." Milam concluded by saying that "because we all have something better to do, what we think are more pressing things to do—speculate in real estate, declare wars, go on a cruise, get drunk—we do these things because we have decided that the fate of a young man and the world and his disease are not worth the candle, are not worth our effort at all, at all."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Nasdijj, The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams: A Memoir, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Nasdijj, The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (memoir) Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Book, September, 2000, Ann Collette, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams: A Memoir, p. 83; January, 2003, Beth Kephart, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 75. Booklist, August, 2000, Grace Fill, review of The
Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 2106; January 1, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 841; March 15, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me, p. 1259.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 1754; January 15, 2004, review of Geronimo's Bones, p. 73.
Kliatt, January, 2002, Edna M. Boardman, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 26.
Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Kay L. Brodie, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 90; January, 2003, Kay Brodie, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 126; February 15, 2004, Kay Brodie, review of Geronimo's Bones, p. 134.
New York Times Book Review, October 15, 2000, Ted Conover, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 12; February 16, 2003, Nell Casey, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2000, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 68; December 2, 2002, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping, p. 42; February 2, 2004, review of Geronimo's Bones, p. 66.
Washington Post Book World, September 17, 2000, Christopher D. Ringwald, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 6.
World and I, April, 2001, Elizabeth Blair, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, p. 244.
Austin Chronicle Online,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (February 14, 2003), Michael Robertson, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping.
FAS Community Resource Center Online,http://comeover.to/FASCRC/ (November 18, 2003), Teresa Kellerman, interview with Nasdijj.
Rebecca Reads,http://www.rebeccasreads.com/ (November 5, 2000), Rebecca Brown, review of The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, interview with Nasdijj; (March 23, 2003), Rebecca Brown, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping.
Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities,http://www.ralphmag.org/ (November 18, 2003), L. W. Milam, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping.
Salt Lake Tribune Online,http://www.sltrib.com/ (May 18, 2003), Martin Naparsteck, review of The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping.