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An Adrian C. Louis Interview


Source: Geronimo: a journal of politics and culture

Geronimo: Adrian, how'd you get from Lovelock and Yerington, Nevada to Brown University? 

Adrian Louis: That's a story that would take a long time to tell. After I graduated in '64 I went to University of Nevada-Reno for about a year and a half--flunked out. Partying. Then about '67 or '66 I just headed over to San Francisco and I went to Haight-Ashberry. I lived there for about a year and a half. I met this guy from Boston who became a real close friend of mine. I'd never been back there, so we just up and hitchhiked back there and I stayed there for a couple of years. I got involved with a woman from Providence, Rhode Island, and I followed her down there and this led into other things. Then I decided to go back to school and I knew some people who were teaching at Brown and they got me in and I resumed my education there. Got my degree and then I went into their creative writing graduateprogram. 

GO: After you got out of Brown?

AL: After I got out of Brown I took a job in LA. as an editor of an Indian newspaper. That was '83, 84, I guess. I stayed there a year, a year and a half. Then I got in touch with this guy named Tim Gaigo. He had a newspaper in Pine Ridge and he asked me if I would come out here and run his paper. I ended up coming out here and working for him for a year. That was in '85, I guess. And then from there I started teaching at the college. 

GO: When did you start writing poetry kind of seriously? 

AL: I guess when I was in high school. I had a poem published centuries ago, like that. My first poem was published in 1963. So, I was a junior in high school. 

GO: What drew you to that?

AL: I had an interest in writing, and that interest came from a teacher I had in high school who was an Indian. So he turned me on to it.  

GO: What do you think you major influence is in your poetry.

AL: I don't know. I guess a part of me thinks we all kind of spring from Emerson and the Transcendental tradition. But as far as Indian writers go, I never really was influenced by any of them. When I was growing up there weren't that many to people to read. 

GO: Are you teaching these days?

AL: No, I'm not. For the past three years I was on a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fellowship. Each of those three years I worked with the college and teach a one week creative writing workshop in the summer, so that's pretty much it. 

GO: You got a Wurlitzer out here didn't you.

AL: Yeah, that was years ago, 1974 or '75. I was only out there for two or three weeks. I was sick from the altitude there. (Pause) I don't remember much about it, really. Going into Taos Pueblo. It's kind of a really quiet place around there. I hear it's changed since then. 

GO: Yeah. How do you compare Pine Ridge, say culturally. to where you grew up like Yerington or Lovelock?

AL: It's the same in a lot of ways. You have the same sort of dynamics. You have groups of Indians in the midst of poverty, and then you have the whites in the white community, and the two never seem to get along that well. You know, until 1953 in Nevada they had what they call the Sundown Order. And the Indians had to be in off the street by dark. Kind of weird.

GO:What's it like up where you live now?

AL: I'm in a small town, its probably about 1/3 Indian and 2/3 redneck. Its just a real rural backwater small town. 

GO: Do you see yourself working in some kind of tradition?

AL: That's a hard question. As far as forms go, I don't use any traditional forms. I write pretty much in free verse.

GO: You grew up in Nevada. What do you think about the issue of Indian gaming?

AL: Oh, my God, that's a can of worms. I think it helps certain tribes. I think on some level deep down I'm opposed to it. I grew up in Nevada and I've seen what gambling does to you. It's all predicated on taking money from suckers, basically. What happens at a lot of these Indian outfits is people come in and don't know what they're doing and who are greedy and corrupt. I think one of the problems is that down the road even white towns are going to switch over when they see the benefits, or potential benefits of gaming. And once they do that, then there's not going to be any reason to go to an Indian reservation and gamble. (Pause) I've never been a big fan of gambling.

GO: You write about the big issue of alcohol, the firewater world. Do you drink anymore?

AL: No, I don't, as a matter of fact. I mean, it's been a problem I've had most of my life. I guess a little over 10 years ago I just up and quit. I think about it a lot. I just one day said it comes down to either deciding to live or deciding to die, and I guess I decided to live. And in order to do that, I had to quit this shit.

GO: Is that why you moved out of Pine Ridge?

AL: That had something to do with it, yeah. Everybody I knew was drinking.

GO: What would you say are the overriding concerns, themes in your work?

AL: Well, the overall theme in my work is personal survival. I'm writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don't have a voice--for the downtrodden.

GO: How would you differentiate yourself from, say, Sherman Alexie?

AL: Oh, that's a hard question. Sherman's younger than I. He's better looking. He's famous, he's made a movie. Oh my God, the poor guy, he's got recognition. (Laughter) I'm old enough to be his dad for Christ's sake.

GO: What do you think of the U.S. these days?

AL: Oh, it's here. I try to ignore it if I can. (Pause) This country was founded on violence. So its kind of like karma coming back to haunt us, you know. When the Spaniards came into the towns here they killed more Indians than Hitler killed Jews in his ovens. It's a greater holocaust here than there was in Europe during World War II. That's a historical fact. America is a schizophrenic country. On the one hand, it purports to be the peace loving center of the universe. On the other hand, it's got everything it has from violence from taking and taking.

GO: Yeah, that was a great quote you had in one poem from AP, from somebody in Iraq who said, "You're treating us like a bunch of Red Indians." What do you think about the bombing going on now in Serbia? 

AL: Well, I'd feel a lot better about it if they could get some pilots who knew how to fly, and dropped their bombs where they're supposed to. I'd feel better if we didn't have a guy like Clinton running the show.

GO: What do you tell your students when you're teaching them to write or teaching them English 101?

AL: Number one, learn the basics of grammar. Number two, don't ever think your words are carved out of stone. Words can be thrown away. Reused. And when you write something, always set it aside and let it age for a while and come back to it. And just stick with it. Writing is a career that, except for the very few, offers little reward. 

GO: Do you write any prose, any fiction?

AL: I've written two books of fiction. I've had a novel come out in '85.and a collection of short stories in '91, "Skins" (Random House). And a collection of short stories that came out in '96 was published by the University of Montana. (Pause) My more recent books kind of detail my current state of affairs.

GO: What's your current state of affairs? 

AL: Oh, just chaos and sadness. I've been contemplating old age a lot. I've got a wife who just four years ago came down with early onset of Alzheimers. She's in a nursing home down here. (Pause) If you get the chance, there's a book called "Ceremonies of the Damned." Check that out if it's around.

Source: http://www.taoswebb.com/geronimo/june99/interview.html Copyright 1999 by Geronimo: a journal of politics and culture


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