Allen, Paula Gunn

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ALLEN, Paula Gunn

Born Paula Marie Francis, 24 October 1939, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Married (divorced); children: two

A Native American of Laguna Pueblo and Sioux heritage, Paula Gunn Allen was raised in Cubero, New Mexico, a Spanish land-grant town 50 miles west of Albuquerque, abutting the Laguna Reservation. Allen's mother is of Laguna Pueblo and Sioux heritage and her father was Lebanese-American. The writings of her mother's uncle, John Gunn, an anthropologist and researcher of Native American cultures, was a major source of information for Allen's writings. Her sister is poet Carol Lee Sanchez and her cousin is writer Leslie Marmon Silko, both of whom were reared in her community.

After attending mission schools in rural Cubero, San Fidel, and a convent school in Albuquerque, Allen went on to receive her B.A. in English from the University of Oregon (1966). After college, she married, had two children, and subsequently divorced. She returned to school and in 1968 received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, also from the University of Oregon. Allen returned to New Mexico and in 1975 received a Ph.D. in American Studies and Native American Studies from the University of New Mexico. She was a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA in 1981-82. Between 1986 and 1990 she was professor of Ethnic Studies and Native American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. Subsequently, Allen has been a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Three components central to Native American culture are the individual, the land, and the spiritual world; the way in which they are woven together forms the fabric of life for the community and the basis for Allen's work. She encourages her reader to see the multiplicity present in all things. Nature is welcomed and accepted in all forms. Spirits are continually present and the individual aware of the power present in the world and prepared to "walk in balance" can move down a path toward spiritual exploration and knowledge.

Allen has written numerous books of poetry, many of which explore the issue of the relationship between the individual and a "mythic space" or the spiritual realm. Even as she continues to explore these issues through her poems, they also permeate her work as a novelist exploring the depths of the individual; as an essayist and editor looking at feminist and historical perspectives; and as an anthologist of Native American tales and myths looking at the works from an anthropological feminist standpoint.

Allen's novel, The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1983, reprinted 1995), introduces a recurrent theme, depicting a Native American woman struggling both to discover her own place in a world bent on judging her behavior and restricting her options and to integrate her sense of herself as a modern woman with the power of ancient spiritual beliefs. The vital healing process and reeducation emerging at the end of the novel reappear in the form of theoretical, feminist historical essays in the nonfiction collection The Sacred Hoop (1986, expanded 1992). Here Allen strikingly reconstructs the gynocratic and gynocentric visions of the world as captured in the stories and religions of Native Americans, examining the traditional and sacred teachings centered within the sacred hoop of life in which everything has a place and role. Asserting that many of the orally transmitted tales have been influenced by the encroaching Anglo-American patriarchal system of politics and religion, Allen presents the tales in their original gynocentric forms.

Allen's strong commitment to textual restoration also appears in essays exploring the incompatibilities between female-centered traditions and those espoused by individuals raised in patriarchal societies; the differences between the European monotheistic and individualist model of society and the communitybased, multitheistic Native American model; and the impact of writing and thinking from a position of "tribal-feminism" and "feminist-tribalism" that respects the separate natures of men and women while stressing the need for both sexes to work in balance with each other.

Spider Woman's Granddaughters (1989) explores 100 years of the strong and vital tradition of Native American women in a collection including traditional tales, biographical writings, and short stories. Allen feels these are the stories of "women at war" who have become captives in their own lands. The major figures include "Sacred Woman," "Grand-mother Spider," and "Yellow Corn Woman" who appear repeatedly, under various names, throughout Native American traditional songs and writings. The stories capture the resistance and continuing hope enduring in Native American cultures that continues to be spoken and written about by the women of the culture.

Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman's Sourcebook (1991) continues the discussion of mythic stories that incorporate a polytheistic female-based belief structure with its concepts of duty to the larger group, balance in all things, and connections to the earth. Substantiating her assertions with extensive research in the belief structures of many Native American cultures, Allen stresses the applicability of these stories to the present day, and the necessity of these beliefs in a modern world that has not only become estranged from the earth, the source of all things, but destroys it as well.

As a writer, Allen believes it is her responsibility to bring forth the visions existing within herself as poet, essayist, novelist, activist, teacher, woman, lesbian, and Laguna Pueblo-Sioux. Her work makes a major contribution to the female strength, and the tribal and native female resistance and hope of Native American cultures. As Allen re-remembers the past of Native American cultures and history, she embodies her hope that her readers and the Native communities will "walk in balance" with the surrounding world.

Other Works:

The Blind Lion (1974). Coyote's Daylight Trip (1978). A Cannon Between My Knees (1981). Shadow Country (1981). Star Child: Poems (1981). Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs (editor, 1983). Judy Grahn: Gathering the Tribe (1983). Wyrds (1987). Skins and Bones: Poems 1979-1987 (1988). Women's Friendship: A Collection of Short Stories (1991). Voice of the Turtle: A Century of American Indian Fiction (editor, 1995). As Long as the River Flows: The Stories of Nine Native Americans (1996). Life is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems, 1962-1995 (1997). Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting Border-Crossing Canons (1998).

Contributor to many anthologies, including: Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short Stories (1991); A Circle of Nations: Voices and Visions of American Indians (1993); No More Masks! An Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Women Poets, Newly Revised and Expanded (1993); From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America (1994); Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian: A Literary Anthology (1994); Issues in Feminism: An Introduction to Women's Studies (1995); The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (1996); Classics in Lesbian Studies (1997); The Other Within Us: Feminist Explorations of Women and Aging (1997); Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature (1997); Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians (1998).


Balassi, W., This Is About Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers (1990). Bloom, H., ed., Native American Women Writers (1998). Bruchac, J., Survival This Way: Inter-views with American Indian Poets (1987). Coltelli, L., WingedWords: American Indian Writers Speak (1992). Donovan, K. M., Feminist Readings of Native American Literature: Coming to Voice (1998). Fleck, R. F., ed., Critical Perspectives on Native American Fiction (1997). Hanson, E. I., Paula Gunn Allen (1990). Keating, A., Women Reading Women Writing: Self-invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde (1996). Lang, N. H., Through Landscape Toward Story/Through Story Toward Landscape: A Study of Four Native American Women Poets (dissertation, 1991). Rothblum, E. D., ed., Classics in Lesbian Studies (1997). Ruoff, A. L. B., American Indian Literatures (1990). Stauffer, H. W., and S. Rosowski, eds., Women and Western American Literature (1982). Swann, B. and A. Krupat, eds., I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers (1987). Swann, B. and A. Krupat, eds., Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature (1987).

Reference Works:

Benet's (1991). FC (1990). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). 20th Century Western Writers (1991).

Other reference:

American Anthropologist (Sept 1990). American Book Review (Dec 1992, Dec. 1993). American Indian Quarterly (Spring 1983, Spring 1991, Spring 1992). Journal of Homosexuality (1999). NDQ (interview, Spring 1989). MELUS (interview, Summer 1983).