In language as perceptive as it is poignant, poet Gwen Nell Westerman builds a world in words that reflects the past, present, and future of the Dakota people. An intricate balance between the singularity of personal experience and the unity of collective longing, Follow the Blackbirds speaks to the affection and appreciation a contemporary poet feels for her family, community, and environment. With touches of humor and the occasional sharp cultural criticism, the voice that emerges from these poems is that of a Dakota woman rooted in her world and her words. In this moving collection, Westerman reflects on history and family from a unique perspective, one that connects the painful past and the hard-fought future of her Dakota homeland. Grounded in vivid story and memory, Westerman draws on both English and the Dakota language to celebrate the long journey along sunflower-lined highways of the tallgrass prairies of the Great Plains that returns her to a place filled with “more than history.” An intense homage to the power of place, this book tells a masterful story of cultural survival and the power of language.
About the Author
Gwen Nell Westerman, an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is Professor in English and Director of Humanities at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and is coauthor of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.
“The journey backward becomes the journey forward in Gwen Nell Westerman’s remarkable debut, Follow the Blackbirds, revealing how history endures in the land, in the family, and in the self...”
—James Cihlar, author of Rancho Nostalgia and Undoing
“Gwen Nell Westerman writes wonderfully of finding the good way home with the help of the old people and the beautiful redwing blackbirds. Her family’s story is that of Indians lost, marginalized, doing the dirty work and yet surviving, moving from Oklahoma and many other places across the continent, and guided by grandmothers back through the Rez into the good life. The poems are quiet and powerful, understated and deeply moving.”
—Carter Revard, Professor of English Emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis