Our War Paint Is Writers' Ink

Anishinaabe Literary Transnationalism

By Adam Spry

Subjects: Indigenous Studies, Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies, American History
Series: SUNY series, Native Traces
Hardcover : 9781438468815, 254 pages, March 2018
Paperback : 9781438468822, 254 pages, January 2019

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Whence These Legends and Traditions?

1. Revolutionary in Character: Translating Anishinaabe Place and Time in the Progress

2. Englishman, Your Color Is Deceitful: Unsettling the North Woods in Janet Lewis’s The Invasion

3. What Is This I Promise You?: The Translation of Anishinaabe Song in the Twentieth Century

4. A Tribe of Pressed Trees: Representations of the State in the Fiction of Louise Erdrich


Explores a little-known history of exchange between Anishinaabe and American writers, showing how literature has long been an important venue for debates over settler colonial policy and indigenous rights.


For the Anishinaabeg—the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes—literary writing has long been an important means of asserting their continued existence as a nation, with its own culture, history, and sovereignty. At the same time, literature has also offered American writers a way to make the Anishinaabe Nation disappear, often by relegating it to a distant past. In this book, Adam Spry puts these two traditions in conversation with one another, showing how novels, poetry, and drama have been the ground upon which Anishinaabeg and Americans have clashed as representatives of two nations contentiously occupying the same land. Focusing on moments of contact, appropriation, and exchange, Spry examines a diverse range of texts in order to reveal a complex historical network of Native and non-Native writers who read and adapted each other's work across the boundaries of nation, culture, and time.

By reconceiving the relationship between the United States and the Anishinaabeg as one of transnational exchange, Our War Paint Is Writers' Ink offers a new methodology for the study of Native American literatures, capable of addressing a long history of mutual cultural influence while simultaneously arguing for the legitimacy, and continued necessity, of indigenous nationhood. In addition, the author reexamines several critical assumptions—about authenticity, identity, and nationhood itself—that have become common wisdom in both Native American and US literary studies.

Adam Spry is Assistant Professor of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College.