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00:00:03>>From the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at The Ohio
00:00:11State University, this is Writers Talk. I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15Linda Hogan is an internationally recognized public speaker and writer
00:00:19of poetry, fiction, and essays. Her main interests as both writer
00:00:23and scholar are environmental issues, indigenous spiritual traditions,
00:00:27and culture. Linda Hogan's most recent novel is People of the Whale.
00:00:31She is writer in residence for the Chickasaw Nation and a member of the
00:00:35Board of Advisors for Orion Magazine and Environmental Journal.
00:00:39Welcome to Writers Talk, Linda Hogan.
00:00:41>>Thank you.
00:00:42>>Tell me about drawing inspiration from your own life, as both a member
00:00:45of the Chickasaw Nation and as a U.S. citizen. How is that?
00:00:49It seems like a very deep subject for you.
00:00:52>>Well, I don't often think of myself as a U.S.
00:00:55citizen so much as a person from a sovereign nation, which is
00:01:00Chickasaw, and I think the people further north of us, the Iroquois, we
00:01:06should issue our own passports. So they do that. A lot of the nations
00:01:14are distinguishing themselves as nations by doing that. I do think that
00:01:21those of us who are bi-cultural mostly identify with one or the other.
00:01:26I work around people who many of the people I work with in the
00:01:31Chickasaw nation actually identify more as Americans than they do as
00:01:35American Indian people.
00:01:38I always find that interesting, so I'm full of questions for them.
00:01:43>>What kinds of questions do you want to ask them as you're
00:01:46negotiating that identity?
00:01:49>>I have so many in my list of questions.
00:01:52How do you visualize God, for instance, is one of my questions and how
00:01:56do you understand yourself as coming from our history and what do you
00:02:04think of the fact that we once were mound builders or that we journeyed
00:02:09up and down the Mississippi and met and made alliances with other
00:02:13tribal nations and mostly wanted to or came from places where thirty
00:02:21groups of different languages of people could hang out together and
00:02:25communicate and pass on knowledge about astronomy, about plant lore,
00:02:31plant knowledge, medicinal plants, foods, and traditions.
00:02:37I mean, that to me is an amazing thing and then to narrow down, funnel
00:02:42down into a kind of people with a smaller vision from what we came
00:02:47from, I don't comprehend.
00:02:50I'm always curious about how we got so acculturated, particularly those
00:02:57of us from the southeast because those of us from that region had the
00:03:02first contact with the Soto early and then from there came many other
00:03:10European nations -- the Spanish, the French, the British, and all their
00:03:16wars were fought out in our land in our part of the country and setting
00:03:23us against each other, even, depending on who gave us weapons.
00:03:29You're sorry you asked this question.
00:03:30>>No. I think it's really good.
00:03:32I mean one of the things we want to do here is figure out how writers
00:03:37work and I think a big part of that is background.
00:03:43Your most recent book, People of the Whale, features a character who
00:03:47comes from an indigenous culture and then, after a night of
00:03:54questionable behavior, signs up to go be in Vietnam and then it deals
00:04:00sort of with the aftermath of that, which seems to be
00:04:02>> You actually read it. I'm surprised.
00:04:05>>Well, I'm familiar.
00:04:07But that says to me a lot about how do you identify, what does this
00:04:13person identify, and the character goes through maybe a couple
00:04:15identifications that I don't want to give away any more of the plot,
00:04:18but there are questions about why does he identify with these and
00:04:22there's a lot of struggle throughout that.
00:04:26>>And people go through those struggles and, especially when
00:04:30they're younger, they go though an identify crisis.
00:04:36We go through this time where we question everything and question what
00:04:40we are, but the thing that remains is that we do come from this Earth
00:04:48and we need to maintain a relationship with the land and with the
00:04:51animals and with the plants in order to keep things whole and in
00:04:58That's really the basis of my work, which is land based, Earth based.
00:05:07I mean even if I located in a different region than where I live or
00:05:11where I'm from, I go there and learn the ecology, I learn the history,
00:05:17I study everything that I can learn about it.
00:05:21>>Because you have another book based in, I think, the Florida
00:05:24Everglades with the killing of a sacred animal.
00:05:27Did that entail then going to that area for a long time?
00:05:33I did research there and I stayed at the Florida Panther and I stayed
00:05:38with Deb Jansen, who was the Florida Panther biologist in the
00:05:45Everglades, and talked to her and spent time doing research.
00:05:51I read the court records on the case and read the environmental
00:05:57history, the ecology.
00:05:59I mean because it is such an amazing ecosystem there, it changes if it
00:06:04elevates within two inches, you have a new ecosystem.
00:06:08>>And probably quite different from your Oklahoma background, which
00:06:13it seems to me like the ecosystems, for example, are much more stable
00:06:18and it gives you a different view on nature, I would assume.
00:06:23I'm not one who's particularly good at nature.
00:06:27>>You're not.
00:06:28>>No, I'm not.
00:06:29I've camped a few times and that's about as close to nature as I get.
00:06:34>>So you're not one of those people who go outside at night and lay
00:06:38back and watch the stars to see where they're going to go.
00:06:41>>Yeah, I have on occasion, but I'm often thinking what's going to
00:06:44crawl on me next and that would be more of the why I'm not as outdoors.
00:06:50But what led you to write the story about the People of the Whale, your
00:06:54most recent novel?
00:06:55Tell me about the background on that.
00:06:56>>Well, before that I did a book with National Geographic called
00:06:59Sitings and it was about.
00:07:03My friend Brenda and I followed the whales for years and starting with
00:07:09Saint Ignacio in the birthing lagoons in Baja and going up to the
00:07:15Bering Sea area.
00:07:18Great whales, not others, although my interest started with a humpback
00:07:28in Hawaii while we were doing some other research.
00:07:33So I was interested in the whales a long time before that and then some
00:07:40elders from one of the reservations in that area invited us up to talk,
00:07:48to interview them because they wanted to talk about what was happening
00:07:53over this proposal to hunt whales in their tribal nation and how the
00:08:01tribe had made a deal with Japan to sell the meat for sushi and there
00:08:05was a long story behind it.
00:08:07It ended up just becoming a novel, which happens in my life all the
00:08:13When I did the one on the Florida panther, it was going to be an
00:08:16article on a legal issue and when it ended up being a novel, the
00:08:22article never ended up being written.
00:08:26>>Well at least you weren't contracted for the article, right?
00:08:28You weren't writing for someone.
00:08:29>>Yeah, that's right.
00:08:30Otherwise I would have had to do it.
00:08:32>>Important writer note here, when you're going somewhere that you
00:08:36don't do that.
00:08:38Tell me about being the first Chickasaw Nation's writer in residence,
00:08:43because I think that may be related to some of the stuff that you
00:08:46worked on in this novel, at least the ways that you want to work
00:08:49through, as you put it, the mythology, the history, and things like
00:08:56What are your responsibilities as that?
00:08:59>>That's what I'm doing now is working on ours, but the governor had
00:09:04been trying to get me to come home for years, every time I saw him at a
00:09:09meeting or something.
00:09:10>>This is the Oklahoma governor?
00:09:11>>The governor of the tribe, of our nation, our leader.
00:09:14>>I'm sorry.
00:09:16>>Finally he just said, "What do I have to do to get you to come
00:09:19home?" And I said, "Do you need a writer in residence?" and he said,
00:09:23"Yes," and he made a phone call and he offered me a job and I moved
00:09:30I actually miss my little, old cabin that I had in Colorado with the
00:09:34creek running by it and listen to pit-bull fights something at night
00:09:41and it's pretty horrible to live in rural Oklahoma sometimes.
00:09:47>>Sorry, Oklahomans, but it's the truth.
00:09:52>>Well this is The Ohio Channel so we won't have to tell.
00:09:56What do you do for this now that you have this position?
00:10:00What does your research entail?
00:10:01What does the work entail?
00:10:04>>Well, I've done creative writing classes for elders.
00:10:09I've done creative writing classes in small rural areas.
00:10:13I'm putting together a program for a school for children that are sort
00:10:18of homeless children, or children with special difficulties in school
00:10:24and in other schools and they're all Chickasaw children.
00:10:31I teach classes and I get some pretty incredible writers in them, and I
00:10:39also have written a performance piece, which was preformed last year
00:10:47and it was just incredible, not because I wrote it, but we also had a
00:10:51composer, Chickasaw composer Jared Tate.
00:10:55My cousin Margaret Roach Wheeler, who is an award-winning fabric
00:11:00artist, did the costumes and the set design and it just turned out to
00:11:08be incredible.
00:11:11I've done that and I've done a children's book, which is bilingual in
00:11:18I do that for the nation and I'm also doing a three-year project in the
00:11:22southeast and the mounds.
00:11:25In fact, I'm heading to the Newark mound in a couple days.
00:11:28>>We just talked to somebody, one of the professors at OSU Newark,
00:11:32who does a lot of work with the mounds in Newark.
00:11:36When you are out doing the research, what do you do?
00:11:40I'm curious about the specifics of it, whether you take a recorder
00:11:43along to talk to people when you working with history of it, or do you
00:11:51record it and then do you bring back your notes and do it?
00:11:54What's the writer's procedure you've worked on when working on that?
00:11:57>>I take notes.
00:11:58>>Just a lot of notes?
00:11:59>>And when I come back I remember what I saw or whatever it is that
00:12:05I need to know or I do research.
00:12:09I also get a feel for the land.
00:12:12I'm interested in how it feels.
00:12:14>>Tell me what you mean by how it feels.
00:12:17>>The energy of the Earth, what it looks like, what it might have
00:12:21been like in the past.
00:12:23What kind of trees where there before these particular trees are there.
00:12:30I went on a canoe trip down the Mississippi as part of my research.
00:12:36What a great job, huh?
00:12:38Although it was quite cold.
00:12:41>>What time of year did you go?
00:12:47I kayaked with whales.
00:12:49I've been ocean kayaking.
00:12:52>>This doesn't sound like the usual idea of a writer, I have to say.
00:12:55The kayaking with whales, that's very unusual, I think, for a lot of
00:12:59writers who are more imbedded in their chairs.
00:13:04>>Yeah, well I spend a lot of time in the chair, too.
00:13:06Glued to it too much.
00:13:08It's bad for your back, though.
00:13:11It's much better to be out doing things.
00:13:13I paddled down the river with a guide, fortunately, or I would have
00:13:16been dead in the first half hour, but I wanted to understand what the
00:13:20river was like because my ancestors, that was their highway, you know.
00:13:25That was how they traveled to exchange things and trade, so we had
00:13:30trades everywhere and all the rivers go into the Mississippi and then
00:13:37go down to the Gulf, so it was important to make that journey and
00:13:41realize how I would have been without the guide gone.
00:13:46>>How long did the journey take you?
00:13:49>>Oh, I only went for a few days so it was not enough.
00:13:52>>It wasn't the entire journey.
00:13:56That would have been great, but I would have tried to go when there
00:13:59weren't very many mosquitoes and when it wasn't that cold, so it
00:14:02probably would have been in October or something.
00:14:05>>I'm curious about how, because when you've done so much identity work
00:14:10about what does this mean to be a person approaching it situated in a
00:14:14particular way?
00:14:16When you're coming at this work, does it ever lead to a sense of
00:14:22Ok, I can talk about this as a scholar, but this aspect I can only
00:14:25talk about as a writer who is going to write a People of the Whale.
00:14:29It's going to be sort of a more historically or more of a mythology
00:14:34piece, or more of a fiction piece.
00:14:37>>No, it takes its own shape for me.
00:14:39Whatever it is I'm working on takes its own shape.
00:14:43For instance, if I'm doing something on history, I end up being a more
00:14:47meditative essay instead of a historical document, there are plenty of
00:14:51those anyway and I'm not a historian, which is good because I hate
00:14:57things like make a little footnote and then follow it up.
00:15:00>>Now wait a minute, you were a full professor.
00:15:02>>I know, I know.
00:15:05I didn't have to do that.
00:15:06I was not that kind of full professor.
00:15:09>>I was going to say, these are the life-blood of it, if students
00:15:12are watching at home.
00:15:14>>Also, I don't call it identity work as much as cultural
00:15:20I'm more into serving cultural history and values and traditions.
00:15:30>>Do you find that when you're doing that then, that there are
00:15:34certain limitations in doing the cultural work that you're doing, that
00:15:38there are certain things that, I guess this is rephrasing of the other
00:15:42question, that are too close to you to talk about?
00:15:46I know that you've written a memoir that was a very personal memoir
00:15:50that talked about some of your family issues and things like that.
00:15:55Was that something that you thought of doing for a particular cultural
00:15:58preservation reason, or was it something that you wanted to work on as
00:16:02a representation for yourself?
00:16:05How did the memoir work?
00:16:06>>It took on really the history of the whole country by the time I
00:16:09was finished with it.
00:16:11It took on indigenous knowledge systems.
00:16:16My two daughters who I adopted took on the historical factors that lead
00:16:24to their early lives and abandonment.
00:16:31I took on why that happened, going back to them coming from the last
00:16:36massacre, the end of what we would call the American wars and what
00:16:43American's would call the Indian wars.
00:16:46It was like that was the last take over and where everybody in the
00:16:51country, all the indigenous people, knew that they could not fight any
00:16:58That history being so recent that my grandmother was alive at that
00:17:06Those kinds of things entered in.
00:17:09It was a historical piece, but it was also about geology and minerals
00:17:16and water and just national history.
00:17:23>>Did you talk about that with your daughters when you went to
00:17:27write it?
00:17:28Where they part of the sounding board for that piece and did they agree
00:17:33with everything?
00:17:37I even talked about it with my ex-husband and they made me cut things
00:17:40about him and he was fine.
00:17:42He would have signed a contract, he said.
00:17:46That's interesting because a lot of people when they're writing memoir
00:17:49run into people saying that's not the way it is or that's not the way I
00:17:53want to represent it.
00:17:54>>My sister was the one who was unhappy.
00:17:57>>And that's all you can say about that.
00:17:58>>Yes, she just though that we had an age different between us and
00:18:04we had different families.
00:18:05That's how it is with brothers and sisters all the time, I've found.
00:18:11There's always a different version of the story that comes out.
00:18:15You've got a piece called, "Indious" that is a long poem performance
00:18:20Tell me about the background of that and how it became a performance
00:18:23piece as opposed to a different kind of writing.
00:18:26What lead you into working with a composer and working with a fabric
00:18:31What was the background?
00:18:34>>It's the story of Medea as an indigenous woman and the first time
00:18:38I read "Medea" when I was a student, I realized this is the story of an
00:18:42indigenous woman.
00:18:44Her father is a sorcerer from another land and she's married to Jason
00:18:50who is the golden man and she helps him achieve things and then he
00:18:56turns away from her and marries a woman from his own background.
00:19:01When I did research on this, I found that the Corinthians killed their
00:19:07children because they didn't want mixed blood children to come to
00:19:10power, but she took the wrap for it.
00:19:15I was going to say she's usually the one that's taken as killed her
00:19:18children to prevent Jason from happiness.
00:19:22>>Because that was what he loved, but it wasn't the truth to the
00:19:28historical part of the story.
00:19:32I wrote it as a contemporary woman in prison for killing her children,
00:19:38who is being interviewed, and she's the lone person on stage.
00:19:44There is no interviewer.
00:19:45She is just answering her questions.
00:19:48It's a long poem, but it doesn't rhyme anything.
00:19:52It's a performance piece, it's just written with line breaks.
00:20:00Actually my publisher said that it was the best thing I've ever
00:20:03written, but it was too short for him to publish as a book, it would
00:20:06never sell as book, so he wanted to only publish a new and collected
00:20:10volume and I wanted it to be a piece on it's own, so I have another
00:20:18press that's going to do it.
00:20:19>>All right.
00:20:20Well that brings me to another question because you've written in a
00:20:23number of different genres: essays, poems, memoir, novels, even
00:20:29documentaries and scripts.
00:20:31What's the one you feel most comfortable in?
00:20:33What's the one that you like to return to?
00:20:35It may or may not be the one you've written the most in.
00:20:39>>Well, I think I love poetry the most.
00:20:42I always say it was my first language.
00:20:47If it's your first language, what makes you say that?
00:20:52Is it something just as a child you felt the most conversant in or
00:20:58>>No, I didn't write when I was a child.
00:21:00I only wrote when I was older because it says things you can't say with
00:21:08words with ordinary language and I love the way a poem works.
00:21:13It's like a fine weaving, you know.
00:21:16The way you put things together and then they become something other.
00:21:20They have resonances.
00:21:22The words resonate with the other words until something light comes out
00:21:28of it.
00:21:30>>And that's when you know you're done with a work is when you feel
00:21:33that you're getting light out of it, as you said.
00:21:36>>Well, anytime I see something I think is really beautiful and
00:21:40amazing, it gives off light.
00:21:44I saw one of Diego Rivera's paintings in a museum in San Antonio and it
00:21:51actually was just luminous.
00:21:56I mean it was beautiful and I thought that's why it's great art.
00:22:01That's how you know something's good.
00:22:03>>That's the definition then for you of art is that it has this
00:22:07luminosity, this light when you see it you recognize it.
00:22:10As a writer, what was the advice you received that you valued the most?
00:22:18My follow up question is what advice do you give to your students that
00:22:21they seem to value the most?
00:22:23Something that really stuck with you or you always pass on to other
00:22:29>>If it doesn't work, it just doesn't work yet.
00:22:33You just keep trying until you get it to work.
00:22:37>>How long does that go on?
00:22:39>>It can go on ten years.
00:22:41>>That must be sort of depressing to people in a class if they know
00:22:45that it's not working by the time that the paper is due or the story is
00:22:52>>That's the trouble with class and being a student.
00:22:56You have to figure out some.
00:22:58Teachers don't expect students to have perfection, I hope.
00:23:03>>When did you get that advice?
00:23:06At what stage in your career or is that something you just came to
00:23:10recognize on your own and nobody really told you that?
00:23:12>>Actually a woman told me that, but she was talking about something
00:23:16completely different than writing.
00:23:20It worked.
00:23:23I think about that when I'm writing and something's not working and I
00:23:27think, well, it's just not working yet.
00:23:29>>As a writer, do you set yourself goals for each day or is it more
00:23:33of an organic thing?
00:23:35It sounds like you sit down and you say alright, this is what I have to
00:23:38say and this is what I want to get done, but it's not like I need ten
00:23:41pages today or I need two poems today.
00:23:44>>No, nothing like that.
00:23:45If I did that I couldn't write.
00:23:48I just sit down and it's organic, but I do have deadlines for projects.
00:23:52I have two essays coming out in magazines and I had to have a deadline.
00:23:59It's like I hate it after you're finished and then they do the
00:24:04copyediting and then they say well we checked our records and
00:24:07historically this is incorrect.
00:24:09Could you please check your source?
00:24:14I have something coming out in Yes magazine and they said, "We looked
00:24:19in the back issues of Science News and we couldn't find this," and I
00:24:22thought, I don't keep the copies of Science News and how am I going to
00:24:27find it?
00:24:29I went online researching back issues of Science News and I couldn't.
00:24:34Then I asked my roommate, "I know we talked about this, wasn't it in
00:24:39Science News?" and he said, "No, I don't think it was Science News.
00:24:41You were reading something else." I was telling a friend, I read like
00:24:46an anteater.
00:24:48I don't necessarily pick each one and note it.
00:24:53I'm just reading all the time.
00:24:56>>That's a good line that we can use: "read like an anteater." Pull
00:25:00things up.
00:25:02>>Yeah, eats ants.
00:25:03Just go.
00:25:04>>Words like ants on the page.
00:25:06>>And then I assimilate information, but I don't always.
00:25:09That's why I'm not a historian.
00:25:11>>Do you think that has to do with a cultural view, perhaps, that
00:25:17is less obsessed than European-American or the Americans about
00:25:21citations, footnotes, getting it all in the background because it's
00:25:25knowledge you're aware of, but not maybe as worried about the source.
00:25:31>>Oh, I wish I could say that, but a whole bunch of Indian
00:25:33historians would argue with me.
00:25:38Vine Deloria being one of them, probably.
00:25:42Well, he's gone now.
00:25:43He argued about everything.
00:25:47He lived in the next town over from me where I lived.
00:25:51>>So that was a writerly exchange or a cultural exchange where you
00:25:56would disagree over the cultural identities that you were discussing or
00:26:00the cultural work?
00:26:02Is that what you mean?
00:26:03Or just in general.
00:26:04>>No, we just had lunch together.
00:26:08When I first met him I thought he was the grumpiest person in the
00:26:11world, but he's the most revered person.
00:26:14I mean as a writer.
00:26:16He work is just.
00:26:18I remember sitting with my cousin and a group of other people and my
00:26:21cousin just saying, "Old Vine's blown his top again.
00:26:25Have you seen his new book?"
00:26:29>>Well that's good advice then.
00:26:32We'll know to watch for people blowing their tops and then you
00:26:34responding to it.
00:26:36Well, Linda Hogan, thank you very much for being here.
00:26:39>>Thank you, too.
00:26:40>>I really appreciate it.
00:26:41And your latest book is, People of the Whale.
00:26:43People can pick that up.
00:26:45From the Center from the Study and Teaching of Writing at The Ohio
00:26:47State University, this is Doug Dangler.
00:26:49Keep writing.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions