Leslie Marmon Silko begins her novel Ceremony (1977) with a definition of story as more about survival than entertainment. Often overlooked in modern, Western culture, the concept of story as survival pervades Native American literature and criticism. A singular American origin story also underwrites a pernicious form national survival by subsuming Indigenous stories into peripheral realms of folklore, mythology, and atavistic entertainment. Nowhere is this binary more vividly displayed than in the symbol of the raven. Lawless and contra-teleological, the raven has no place in Anglo American origin stories except as an emblem of death. By contrast, in the Indigenous Pacific West, the raven generates life through story. Like Spider Woman in Silko’s Ceremony, the Tlingit raven assumes the role of storyteller. He flies in and out of comical vignettes that eschew American origins in favor of a new future-oriented continental creation story. But rather than produce a counter-narrative or an ensconced settler-indigenous binary, the Tlingit raven resurrects knowledge about the story’s capacity to ensure human and ecological survival.
Reception to follow.
Sarah Rivett is professor of English and American studies at Princeton University. She is the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (2011), Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (2017), and Raven’s Land: Placing the Indigenous Northwest Pacific in American Literature (in progress). Her research traces continuities between religious phenomena and secular history. Her work shows how religion functions as a distinctive feature of American literature’s temporal and geographic parameters, shaping settler and Indigenous identities that are at once distinct yet embedded within a larger field of transnational, religious, and cultural forms. Through research and teaching, Rivett strives to recover voices, lands, and stories of the past that have been erased or obscured by settler colonialism. She seeks to understand how settler, African American, and Indigenous histories intersected as a reparative method to address the violence of the past and present.
Old Dominion Research Professors contribute to the Humanities Council’s programs and events and engage the campus community in sustained discussions about their research. This cohort of senior faculty join a yearlong program designed to provide additional research time and to enhance the humanities community more broadly. They also serve as faculty fellows in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. Old Dominion Professors are full professors in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.