5Q :: Linda Grover on her acclaimed new bookBudgeteer columnist Linda LeGarde Grover’s “The Dance Boots” won the esteemed Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press.
By: Jennifer Derrick, Budgeteer News
Linda LeGarde Grover’s “The Dance Boots” won the esteemed Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press in 2009. Only two such awards are given out annually, and a contract for publication is part of the deal in winning such an award. “The Dance Boots,” which hit bookshelves in September, takes place over the last century, telling the stories of families on the fictional Mozhay Point Indian Reservation in Minnesota during the time of government boarding schools for American Indians.
It was a privilege to sit down and talk with Grover. A poet since age 9, Grover is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa (also referred to as Ojibwe). She was my instructor not so long ago and continues to teach as an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Budgeteer: How did this book originate? Where does it come from?
Grover: My dissertation was a qualitative interview project about the effects of government boarding schools on American Indian families, but I didn’t feel comfortable publishing it in that form — even though there was interest in that. My friend Tom Peacock was the one who suggested I write fiction. (A former UMD faculty member and a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Peacock has won numerous awards for his non-fiction work.)
Why “The Dance Boots”? How did you choose this title for your book?
Aside from it being the title of the first story in the collection, the boots in that story are a tangible gift that is passed down from one generation to the next, which is the foundation of the entire book. … And [“The Dance Boots”] is really the connection between all of the stories.
As an Ojibwe, how do you move beyond the often heavy and sad history of your culture and come to, as one reviewer put it, “poignant and surprisingly joyful moments” in this book?
That’s the Ojibwe worldview: In the midst of much happiness, there is much sadness, and, in the midst of much sadness, there is much happiness. There are a lot of hard and sad things in this book.
But one of our basic teachings is to be thankful.
Growing up, my dad always told me, “When you get up every morning, you should thank God for making you an Indian.” So I do.
Who is this book for?
I don’t really think that anyone truly creates; we are just vessels to transport that creativity.
The people [who populate my book] have a collective story that must be told.
This book was only written because there are boundaries; I’m not exposing everything and everyone in these stories in the way that I would if I had published my dissertation.
What’s next for you?
The last time I had written fiction — and it was very terrible, by the way — was when I was in my 20s. But, at this point, I do really like fiction. If I hadn’t spent all those years writing poetry, I wouldn’t be able to write this sort of fiction.
I have an unpublished book — it’s more of a novel — called “The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” and some of the same people from “The Dance Boots” exist in that collection.
I also have the beginning of another book about two sisters growing up in the ’80s and ’90s.
NEWS TO USE
Learn more about UMD professor (and monthly Budgeteer columnist) Linda LeGarde Grover’s critically acclaimed new book, “The Dance Boots,” at www.ugapress.org.