It would be nearly impossible for me to name a single favorite author or favorite book. Perhaps it is because I teach literature, which means I am always immersed in dialogue with thought-provoking authors and books and engaged with students in discussing them. This means I am constantly being introduced to new works, and repeatedly returning to beloved novels, poems, petitions and essays, seeing them anew. One of the new novels that is stirring deep conversation in the classroom and literary networks in Cherie Dimaline’s post-apocalyptic climate change novel, The Marrow Thieves. I have come to love speculative fiction, and The Marrow Thieves is my current favorite, that is, besides the work of my daughter, Lillie Rose Brooks, who is writing a piece called, “The Legends Behind the Book,” in which a brother and sister find a book about traditional Wabanaki stories and are transported by the book through time. Still, I think I cannot choose a “favorite” because it would be kind of like trying to choose a favorite elder. I do know that I would not be a writer or a professor without the tremendous network of authors who have influenced, inspired and supported me, including the vast network of Native American writers, who I teach, in my classes, and who taught me, even when I did not know what was possible.
As a writer, literary scholar and historian, I work at the crossroads of early American literature & history, geography and Indigenous studies. In my writing and my teaching, I like to ask questions about how we see the spaces known as “New England” and “America” when we turn the prism of our perception to divergent angles. Indigenous methodologies, including a focus on language, place, and community engagement, are crucial to my research, as is deep archival investigation. My first book, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast, focused on the recovery of Native writing and geographies, including the network of Indigenous writers which emerged in the northeast in the wake of English and French colonization. My new book, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War, reframes the historical landscape of “the first Indian War,” more widely known as King Philip’s War (1675-8). Having become increasingly drawn to the Digital Humanities, I have had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team of Amherst College students and scholars to create an interactive website, “Our Beloved Kin: Mapping a New History of King Philip’s War,” which features maps that decolonize the space of the colonial northeast, rare seventeenth century documents, and digital storytelling designed to open paths of inquiry.
I have been fortunate to participate in an extensive regional and global network of writers, scholars, and communities. While completing my undergraduate degree, I worked on aboriginal rights and land preservation cases in our tribal office at the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi. As an emerging writer, I was mentored through Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. After focusing on comparative American literatures and Native American Studies as a graduate student at Boston College and Cornell University, I joined the faculty at Harvard University, teaching a wide range of courses in Native American literature, transnational American history and literature, and Oral Traditions. During that time, I was deeply honored to be elected to the inaugural Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and to participate in “a paradigm shift” within literary studies. I was part of the collaborative group that published Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective, and contributed the widely circulated “Afterword: At the Gathering Place,” to the provocative, collectively authored American Indian Literary Nationalism. Building bridges among scholarly disciplines, I have published essays in Northeastern Naturalist, American Literary History, PMLA, Studies in American Indian Literatures and the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies. I currently serve on the Editorial Boards of Studies in American Indian Literatures and Ethnohistory, and am a series editor for Native Americans of the Northeast, published by the University of Massachusetts Press. I continue to be active in community-based projects and networks, especially through the non-profit organization, Gedakina, which offers programs focused on cultural revitalization, youth and women’s empowerment, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in Native communities across New England.
I came to Amherst in 2012 from Harvard University, where I was the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities, in part because of the close, collaborative interactions between students, staff and faculty at Amherst. For me, learning from students and colleagues and being intellectually challenged in the classroom is a highlight of teaching in a liberal arts environment. I am especially privileged to teach from within the Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, housed in the Frost Library Archives and Special Collections, and to collaborate with archivist and scholar Michael Kelly and the phenomenal Frost staff not only in teaching students but in sharing this collection with tribal communities and NAIS scholars in the region and across the continent.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Writing for me has always been a tool for thinking, for working out ideas, for figuring out puzzling challenges, for wrestling with paradoxes, for asking difficult questions and for expressing difficult experiences. In the Abenaki language, we have a word, awikhigawôgan, which is the activity of writing, mapping, drawing. That activity is what I do, and what I encourage emerging writers, including my students, to do. We also have a related word, awikhigan, which referred originally to birchbark maps and scrolls, but came to encompass books, letters, petitions, artistic media, and many other forms of writing, mapping and drawing. At the root of this word is the suffix for “instrument or tool.” So, I encourage students and writers to see writing as an instrument or tool, to enable deliberation and discovery, not as something they have to produce. I like to think of writing as the means, not the end. Even when that writing takes the form of a book, like Our Beloved Kin, I like to think that this awikhigan will become a tool to stimulate readers’ own deliberations and writings, sparking yet another round of awikhigawôgan.
Awards and Honors
- Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellowship, 2016 - 17
- Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Prize: Most Thought Provoking Article, 2013, for “The Constitution of the White Earth Nation: A New Innovation in a Longstanding Indigenous Literary Tradition,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 23:4
- Libra Professorship, University of Maine at Farmington, Spring 2012
- New England Consortium Regional Fellowship, 2011
- Media Ecology Association's Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture: The Common Pot, 2011
- Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Prize: Reasoning Together. Voted one of the ten Most Influential Books in Native American and Indigenous Studies of the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century, 2011
- Roslyn Abramson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Harvard University, 2008
- Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Diversity Fellowship, 2007 - 2008
- Native Americans at Harvard College “Role Model of the Year” Award, 2004
- Guilford Dissertation Prize for Highest Excellence in English Prose, Cornell University, 2004
- Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, 2002 - 2003
- John Carter Brown Library Fellowship, May - June 2002
- Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society, Nov - Dec 2001
- Frances C. Allen Fellowship, Newberry Library, July - August 2000
- Jean Stroebel-Starr Memorial Award, 1997: “Apprentice of the Year,” Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers
Lisa Brooks is an Abenaki writer and scholar – her father’s family is from the upper Missisquoi River (in northern Vermont) and the Pemigewasset River (in northern New Hampshire). Her mother’s family is from Koszarawa, Poland. She has lived in many places in New England, but she currently resides in the Connecticut River Valley, where she works as an Associate Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College. Prior to joining the faculty at Amherst, Brooks was John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. While an undergraduate at Goddard College, Brooks worked in the tribal office of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, on aboriginal rights and land preservation cases. She received her Ph.D. in English, with a minor in American Indian Studies, from Cornell University in 2004. Her first book, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (University of Minnesota Press 2008), focused on the role of writing as a tool of social reconstruction and land reclamation in the Native northeast. Although rooted in her Abenaki homeland, Brooks’s scholarship has been widely influential in transnational networks. She served on the inaugural Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and currently serves on the Advisory Board of Gedakina, a non-profit organization focused on Indigenous cultural revitalization, educational outreach, and community wellness in New England.
Learn more about Our Beloved Kin on Lisa's website.