The inspiration for this blog came to me as I hungrily devoured the middle chapters of The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn. This is the third in a trilogy of books he has written at the request of an American Indian elder named Dan (not his true name but Ken keeps it from us for good reason). It’s been some time since I’ve been so moved (emotionally and spiritually) by a story told by an exemplary storyteller. I realized that whether we write fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to captivate your readers and leave them wanting more.
In the first book of the trilogy, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent beautifully details his trips to the Northern Plains region to meet with the Indian elder. I’ve never been there but I can clearly picture the landscape, thanks to his exceptional descriptive writing style; it’s as if I were there with him every step of the way, emotionally and physically. He continued to mesmerize me in the second book, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghost and Shadows, where his adventures into Indian country continue, and so does his brilliant narrative.
This one particular paragraph from the first book spoke volumes to me:
Because of this, I saw something else in that roadside enclosure. I saw a piece of the earth – a huge and silent rock – enclosed in a pen like an animal. I saw the living belief of a people reduced to a placard and made into a roadside curiosity designed for the intellectual consumption of a well-meaning American public. In short, I saw one of the most poignant metaphors for the plight of the Indian people that I am likely to confront in my entire life; the spirit of the land, the spirit of the people, named, framed, and incarcerated inside a fence.
Isn’t that what it’s all about for us writers? To evoke images, awaken a sense of imagination, belonging, or participation in the story, and enlighten us in a way that transforms? It’s what I try to do but whether or not I succeed is purely the opinion of my readers. Yet I keep on writing with the hope that some of my work – be it fiction or not – will take the reader on a ride to a land or place or dream they’ve not before been. And want to go again.