Works in the Native American Literature Collection

Welcome to the Amherst College Collection of Native American Literature located in the Archives & Special Collections

The Collection of Native American Literature represents some of the earliest published writing by Native authors from the 18th century up to literature published today. The initial acquisition came to Amherst College in 2013 after a generous gift from alumna Younghee Kim-Wait (AC 1982) supported the purchase of a collection of 1,400 Native-authored books assembled by private collector Pablo Eisenberg. As of 2022, an additional 1,700 books and other published works have been added to the collection, expanding both the chronological and intellectual scope of Native writing represented at Amherst. 

The collection includes fiction, poetry, history, philosophy, Indigenous-language texts, anthropological works, photography, activist manifestos, comics, books for children, printed ephemera, and a wide range of texts which highlight the literary traditions of Indigenous communities across the continent. Sermons, speeches, and memoirs are also well represented, including some of the earliest published works by Native authors such as Samson Occom (Mohegan), William Apess (Pequot), and Elias Boudinot (Cherokee). 

Materials from the Northeast are well-represented in the collection including literature from the Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot nations, as well as the Six Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora). 

The collection includes the early and hard-to-find books by such writers as Mourning Dove (Okanagan/Colville), Zitkala Sa (Yankton Dakota), D'Arcy McNickle (Cree-Métis), Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota), Charles Eastman (Santee Dakota) and Pauline Johnson (Mohawk), dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as scarce books by a later generation of writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Maurice Kenny (Mohawk) and Joy Harjo (Muscogee (Creek)), whose early works were published in tiny quantities by small presses, or sometimes self-published, and which are virtually impossible to obtain. 

Creek scholar Craig Womack provides vital context for these early writers, and the entire collection at Amherst, in his 1999 book Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism

“Indian people have authored a lot of books, a history that reaches back to the 1770s in terms of writing in English, and hundreds of years before contact in terms of Mayan and Aztec pictoglyphic alphabets in which were written the vast libraries of Mesoamerica. As rich as oral tradition is, we also have a vast, and vastly understudied, written tradition. … We have a large group of authors available for study, including Samson Occum, David Cusick, William Apess, George Copway, Elias Boudinot, John Rollin Ridge, Peter Dooyentate Clark, Elias Johnson, Sarah Winnemucca, William Warren, Alice Callahan, Simon Pokagon, and E. Pauline Johnson, as a mere sampling of Native people writing before the turn of the century. This does not even include those writing for periodicals and newspapers, or the early-twentieth-century writers who are often overlooked as well. These are some of our ancestral voices, the pioneers, those who came before us whose writings paved the way for what Native authors can do today. Nineteenth-century Indian resistance did not merely take the form of plains warriors on horseback; Indian people authored books that often argued for Indian rights and criticized land theft. In addition to publishing books, many of these authors engaged in other rhetorical acts such as national speaking tours lobbying for Native rights. Their life stories, as well as their literary ideas, provide a useful study of the evolution of Native thought that has led up to contemporary notions of sovereignty and literature. Not nearly enough of this intellectual history has been brought to bear on a study of contemporary Native writings. Most approaches to the “Native American Literary Renaissance” have proceeded as if the Indian discovered the novel, the short story, and the poem only yesterday.” (2-3)

One of the goals of the Collection is to explore new and creative ways to call attention to this understudied literary and intellectual tradition through traditional library catalogs, as well as other digital humanities tools for mapping and data visualizations. All of the authors Womack names are represented in the collection.

More on Culturally sensitive cataloging and protocols for Indigenous collections.

There are currently two ways to access the collection:

Amherst College Library Catalog:

The original Eisenberg collection -- plus the hundreds of items added since 2013 -- is included in the Amherst College Library Catalog. All catalog records include a note that identifies them as part of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg collection, along with other notes about how the books reached the shelves of Amherst College. New items are added to the catalog as they are received; it is a living and growing document of the collection. The Archives & Special Collections is open to the public and we encourage visitors to explore the collection in person.

Amherst College Digital Collections:

Under current United States copyright law, published books enter the public domain 96 years after publication; as of 2022, all books published in the United States prior to 1927 are free from copyright restrictions. We are in the process of digitizing books from the Amherst College Collection of Native American Literature that are in the public domain; these are made available through Amherst College Digital Collections where they can be read and downloaded by anyone with an internet connection.

More about the Mapping Native Intellectual Networks of the Northeast project

More about the History of the Collection

Additional images of items from the collection can be seen on our Flickr site.

*NOTE: This website along with policies and procedures related to the Amherst College Collection of Native American Literature are part of an on-going process of collaboration, outreach, and networking with Indigenous community members and the Five Colleges Native American and Indigenous Studies academic community to allow for existing policies and practices to more accurately reflect and respect Indigenous ways of knowing, and tribal sovereignty.

Tags:  Native American