Deborah A. Miranda has expertly illustrated the complexities of her mixed heritage, motherhood, and Native American identity for years. Growing up in LA to an Esselen/Chumash father and mother of French heritage, Miranda used facets of her unique upbringing to amplify native voices in literature.
Her poetry “often focus[es] around gender,” with her works such as The Zen of Llorona, based on the legend of La Llorona, juggling aspects of nurturing and violence. Her numerous works include anthologies and book reviews, as well as her hit books Indian Cartography and Sovereign Erotics, which features literature centering the Two-Spirit identity that Miranda herself identifies as; and I cannot stress this enough, non-Native individuals cannot identify as Two-Spirit, as the below video explains. The novel stands as a literary unicorn, being one of the only books to feature solely the writing of Indigenous queer and Two-Spirit individuals.
On top of her job as an English professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, Miranda recently published a series of poems in Altar for Broken Things. “Yet in these poems bees still pollinate, oysters still make pearls, women still yearn to scratch ‘the smell of exile’ and brokenness off their skins,” said author of Little Big Bully, Heid E. Erdrich.
Miranda’s writing and shared experience shed a light on a little observed community central to Indigenous, and thus, American history. To celebrate queerness without mentioning her name is a gross oversight, as her contributions remain unmatched even to this day. If you have any interest in the LGBTQIA+ community, as a member or an ally, you need to crack open one of Miranda’s works, and soon.
RECOMMENDATION: BAD INDIANS: A TRIBAL MEMOIR
Bad Indians is a stark departure from Miranda’s stand-alone poetry, including “oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems,” alongside her typical heart-wrenching lines. In it, Miranda recounts her upbringing, and the history of California Indians as a whole.
Miranda shares intimate details of her genealogy that she uncovered through her own mother’s records, grandfather’s cassette tapes, and other mementos of family history. Miranda leaves herself wide open in between the pages, making sense of the abuse she experienced as a child by linking it directly to that suffered by California’s Indigenous communities in missions.
Miranda’s mixed-genre novel became an instantaneous hit, winning the PEN Oakland-Josephine miles Literary Award and the 2014 Independent Publisher Award for the Autobiography/Memoir category.
If that’s not enough to get you to pick up Bad Indians, then I don’t know what is.
IMAGE VIA HEYDAYBOOKS