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Riddle, Paxton 1949-

RIDDLE, Paxton 1949-

PERSONAL: Born May 25, 1949, in Oakland, CA; married; wife's name, Sally (a marketing executive); children: Beth, Jay, Courtney Myers. Ethnicity: "Scot/Cherokee." Education: Hofstra University, B.A., 1972; Western Kentucky University, M.P.S., 1974. Politics: Democrat. Religion: United Methodist. Hobbies and other interests: American Indian affairs, music.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—6 Corn Hill Rd., Shelton, CT 06484. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Novelist, editor, and musician.

MEMBER: Western Writers of America, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.

AWARDS, HONORS: Spur Award finalist, Western Writers of America, 2000; Best Read of 2002 selection, Native American Times.

WRITINGS:

Lost River, Berkley (New York, NY), 1999.

The Education of Ruby Loonfoot, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including News from Indian Country, Wild West, Licking River Review, Beaver Tail Journal, and Studies in American Indian Literatures.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Novel concerning the theft and market for Native American antiques and funerary items.

SIDELIGHTS: Paxton Riddle is a novelist and editor whose keen interest in American Indian affairs is reflected in his novels. "I am passionate about two topics: native peoples and U.S. History," Riddle told CA. "I enjoy bringing history to life and spotlighting the rich heritage, culture, and traditions of American Indian people." He finds inspiration in his own Native American ancestry and works to accurately portray the history of Native Americans and their troubles and conflicts. Riddle's interests also include the current status of Native Americans and their spirituality. He is involved in the New York Area Conference Committee on Native American Ministries and the Northeast Regional Task Force on Native American Ministries, both functions of the United Methodist Church.

A major influence on Riddle's work is "Knowing that, in general, Americans know little about their own indigenous people and what they've contributed to our country," he told CA. Riddle describes his writing process as "haphazard, to say the least. Generally I have a list of topics I think I'd like to write about at some time in the future," he told CA. "Once I select a topic I try to write daily."

Riddle's first novel, Lost River, is a fictionalized retelling of the events surrounding the Modoc War fought in the 1860s in what was then the Oregon territory. Frank Riddle, a white man, and his Modoc Indian wife, Roby Winema Riddle, become negotiators between two fierce political factions: the Washington politicians who want to place all Indians on reservations, and the certain members of the Modoc tribe, who do not want to be restricted to a reservation. The Modoc War erupts over this fundamental conflict. "While the outcome is known early, the story does a great deal to illustrate the events of this time period," wrote Elaine S. Patterson in Kliatt.

In The Education of Ruby Loonfoot, Riddle explores the issues of racism, abuse, and obliteration of culture that Native American children faced during the 1950s. Ruby Loonfoot, a bright and outspoken thirteen-yearold Ojibwe girl, attends St. Nicholas, a Catholic boarding school for Indian children in 1957. Although the purpose of St. Nicholas is ostensibly to educate Native American children who might otherwise not have the opportunity to attend school, conditions there are brutal, even sadistic. Children are viciously beaten for minor transgressions; priests rape and molest carefully selected victims; rebellious children are even subjected to what amounts to torture in electric shock devices. The reservation cannot afford to build its own school, and most parents are also too poor, or too intimidated, to reject sending their children to St. Nicholas.

Ruby, whose Ojibwe name Bineshee Ogicidaw means "Little Warrior," is well aware of the abuses rampant in St. Nicholas school. A sympathetic nun reports the problems to school administrators, and they transfer her. Ruby's father is too preoccupied with his own problems to listen, and her devout mother refuses to believe even the possibility of any problems in the church. Only Ruby's grandmother, Cecelia, offers any hope of help. Cecelia believes in the traditional Ojibwe culture, and she has provided Ruby with an education in the old ways. Cecilia encourages Ruby to embrace her native culture and practice its ways, even while the imposing power of the St. Nicholas School tries to obliterate the Ojibwe religion and customs, which they consider pagan and sacrilegious.

During a summer break from classes, Ruby undergoes the Ojibwe coming-of-age ceremony under the tutelage of Cecilia. Transformed in attitude and determination by the rites, she returns to St. Nicholas even more intent on righting the wrongs she sees there. Though she is horribly punished for her attempts, her resolve is only strengthened until, like the little warrior she is, she finally succeeds in exposing the hypocrisy and systemized brutality of life at St. Nicholas.

"Riddle pulls no punches in this difficult, yet engrossing novel about a coming-of-age made torturous by institutionalized racism," wrote Deborah Donovan in Booklist. A reviewer at the Love Romances Web site called The Education of Ruby Loonfoot "wellresearched, wonderfully written, and thought-provoking, describing a shameful time in American history. The subject and characters are haunting and the insightful narration by Ruby Loonfoot makes it well worth the read." Harriet Klausner, writing on the Best Reviews Web site, called the book "a powerful, well-written novel that will shock most readers with its deep evocative spotlight on a systematic brainwashing" founded in mainstream education of Native Americans in the 1950s. Native American Times picked the book as a Best Read of 2002.

A Kirkus Reviews critic was unenthusiastic about the novel, calling it "Strong stuff, badly written." However, Heidi Horner, writing on the Escape to Romance Web site, called The Education of Ruby Loonfoot "among the best coming-of-age novels I've read." Riddle "narrates Ruby's story in clear, straightforward prose that can sometimes sound a little too unrefined, but is always honest and precise," Horner commented. The book "is not light, relaxing reading," Horner concluded, but is a novel that "will infuriate and inspire you, and you will find it nearly impossible to put down."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2002, Deborah Donovan, review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot, p. 569.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot, p. 1260.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, September, 1999, Elaine S. Patterson, review of Lost River, p. 20.

ONLINE

Authorsden,http://www.authorsden.com/ (January 7, 2003), review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot.

Best Reviews,http://www.thebestreviews.com (January 7, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot.

Escape to Romance.com,http://www.escapetoromance.com (January 7, 2003), Heidi Horner, review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot.

Love Romances,http://www.loveromances.com (January 7, 2003), review of The Education of Ruby Loonfoot.

Pulse,http://www.heartsoundspress.com/ (January 7, 2003).

Readwest.com,http://www.readwest.com/ (January 7, 2003).

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