TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen and author Oscar Hokeah published his debut novel “Calling for a Blanket Dance” in July and has since received public acclaim for sharing his perspective on family and Native American culture.
The basis of the story comes from Hokeah’s Kiowa and Cherokee ancestry and follows the life of Ever Geimausaddle “through the multi-generational perspectives of his family as they face a myriad of obstacles,” says oscarhokeah.com.
Hokeah began his novel in 2008 while attending the American Institute of Indian Art.
“So when I was at AIAI in 2008, I decided that I would try to write what I would call a distinct, Kiowa-type story, and then a distinct Cherokee story,” he said. “And so the two earliest chapters were written then. And so that’s when I got that initial kind of seed for it.”
After periods of writer’s block, Hokeah picked up the story again in 2015 when Geimausaddle’s story arc began to develop.
“In 2015 it’s whenever it started to become like now,” he said. “Where you have this character who’s on this trajectory, kind of a mess in his life. And then he has these different family members who are there to support him and try to get him back on track.”
Hokeah refers to his novel as a “decolonization narrative” where readers will see the main character dealing with problems in his community and seeing culture as a solution to those problems.
“When I look at some of the issues we have in the community, I think in terms of how traditional practices can be a solution to a certain degree in order to help community members get back on track,” he said. I’d like people to know that it’s a story of transformation. There are definitely real struggles and the kind we face in our community. But there’s a kind of positive element to it.”
Hokeah captures the uniqueness of the Cherokee and Kiowa people by moving back and forth within history between the two tribal communities.
“I’m trying to capture the differences like this is how the Cherokees are or this is how the Kiowa are, and this is kind of where we’ve crossed paths in certain areas,” he said. “I’m Kiowa and Cherokee, and I’m half Mexican. So this is what plays out in the novel. The main character has the exact same heritage that I have, and a lot of the experiences that he has are the same experiences that I had growing up, and I just wanted to give voice to the interracial dynamic that we have here in Oklahoma. I don’t know if it’s talked about that much. So, I was trying to bring that to the fore.”
The title “Call to a Blanket Dance” pays homage to the blanket dance found in Kiowa culture and powwow culture as a way to donate money to a cause or need. Hokeah uses the accent of the blanket dance for the structure of his novel.
“Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the family. So we have 12 different broadcasters. The first chapter is the grandmother, the second chapter is the grandfather, and then you have the uncles, aunts, cousins, and siblings. And then the last chapter, the main character Ever Geimesaddle speaks for himself,” Hokeah said. “That’s the structure of it … where you have different family members that step up and basically say, ‘This is what we have to offer you to help you stay on track, but also to we give a certain kind of power so that then you can take that power and then later offer it to someone else’”.
Since the debut of the novel, Hokeah has received positive feedback from readers and critics.
“A lot of people have talked about intertribal dynamics, like people here in Oklahoma who are both Kiowa and Cherokee, or maybe Comanche and Cherokee,” he said. “It’s really like a family-type fiction. So even if someone isn’t local, they can understand the family dynamic of the novel, and the family just shows up for each other.”
Hokeah’s novel has since made #1 and #2 on the Oklahoma Best Seller list, the New York Times Book Review, the NYT Editor’s Pick/Staff List, and the “9 New Books That recommend this week” of the NYT. On 6 September, the book was released for purchase in the UK via Amazon.
“So it’s been really cool to see these people who are seeing the novel and it’s just very exciting, but also just ongoing gratitude,” he said. “This is my first book. I am 46 years old. So I’m a little older, but my first book is out. And so just to feel like a tremendous sense of gratitude to have this book out there like that.”
“Call to a Blanket Dance” can be purchased online wherever books are sold and locally at Too Fond of Books in downtown Tahlequah for signed copies.