Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tooting a horn about a new book

Well, it’s kind of my horn, but mostly my friend and mentor, Alvin’s horn. And mutual friend and co-editor Marc Jaffe’s horn. And editor (Alvin’s own long-time editor) Ann Close’s horn. She steered us through the project, and then passed it on to Keith Goldsmith at Viking Penguin. So a chorus of horns—maybe a band!

The book is The Longest Trail: Writings on American Indian History, Culture, and Politics, by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., edited by Jaffe and Wandschneider. It’s in three sections, based on three concepts that Alvin drummed into us over years: First, that the standard narrative of American history has omitted Indians—they have either been sideshows or impediments to the march of Euro-American civilization, not treated as actors in the American drama, the actions, decisions, and accidents that have all gone to make us the nation we are.

Second, Indians have something to teach us still about living with the rest of creation. There were democrats and autocrats, farmers, warriors, slavers and medicine people among them, but the indigenous people of the Americas saw themselves as pieces of the universe, not its commanders.

Finally, Alvin believed that Indian survival is a kind of miracle, and that it owes to resilience and a relationship to land that, until quite recently, Euro-Americans did not even try to understand—our notion being that land is a kind of commodity, like labor and capital, that can be bought and sold quite independently of the people long rooted to it.

So we scoured Alvin’s books (many of them still in print after decades!) and we looked at pieces he had written for large publications and small, the New York Times and Idaho Yesterdays, and we nudged as many of them into the whole as we could make room for. And we got Bobbie Conner to write a foreword, and Cliff Trafzer, Jaime Pinkham, and Mark Trahant to write intros to sections—and as of today it is out in the world!

Library Journal liked it, and a bunch of “vine” readers at Amazon—whoever they are—gave it five stars, and Viking put it in their teachers’  catalog and is sending copies to Indian Studies departments as we identify them. (“Books are now available at the Josephy Center or your local bookstore.”)

I tell people that I thought Alvin was leaving me a few books to deal with, and I am indeed learning to be a librarian. But I didn’t realize at first that he left a mission too, an admonition to continue to learn and tell the Indian story. As Marc Jaffe says, after six or seven decades in the publishing business, “putting Indians into American history” is a pretty good project, one he’s delighted to pick up on in the name of our old friend and his fellow Marine, Alvin M. Josephy Jr.

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/229064/the-longest-trail-by-alvin-m-josephy-jr/