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About Craig S Womack


Drowning in Fire
Copyright © 2001
by Craig Womack
University of Arizona P
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As a young boy growing up within the Muskogee Creek Nation in rural Oklahoma, Josh experiences a yearning for something he cannot tame. Quiet and skinny and shy, he feels out of place, at once inflamed and ashamed by his attraction to other boys. Driven by a need to understand himself and his history, Josh struggles to reconcile the conflicting voices he hears—from the messages of sin and scorn of the non-Indian Christian churches his parents attend in order to assimilate, to the powerful stories of his older Creek relatives, which have been the center of his upbringing, memory, and ongoing experience.
In his fevered and passionate dreams, Josh catches a glimpse of something that makes the Muskogee Creek world come alive. Lifted by his great-aunt Lucille’s tales of her own wild girlhood, Josh learns to fly back through time, to relive his people’s history, and uncover a hidden legacy of triumphs and betrayals, ceremonies and secrets he can forge into a new sense of himself.
When as a man, Josh rediscovers the boyhood friend who first stirred his desires, he realizes a transcendent love that helps take him even deeper into the Creek world he has explored all along in his imagination.
Interweaving past and present, history and story, explicit realism and dreamlike visions, Craig Womack’s Drowning in Fire explores a young man’s journey to understand his cultural and sexual identity within a framework drawn from the community of his origins. A groundbreaking and provocative coming-of-age story, Drowning in Fire is a vividly realized novel by an impressive literary talent. — from the jacket

Craig Womack's novel is an astonishing and vivid account of the struggle for love. Love of one's Native tribal homeland, community and culture, and love for another man. The story Womack tells is told with startling honesty, sometimes painfully but always with deep insight into the complexity of a personal relationship, and always with a poignancy that does not fail to have us look into ourselves. I recommend it very, very highly! — Simon J Ortiz

Craig Womack's first publication, Red on Red, made history as the first book of Mvskoke (Creek) literary criticism. With Drowning in Fire this talented writer and thinker has presented us with another first, an act of courage: a Mvskoke gay coming-of-age novel. This new book is a love story of many parts: of a man for another man, a man for himself, and a man for his people. — Joy Harjo

Womack's sensual first novel is the coming-of-age story of Josh Henneha, a Muskogee Creek Indian growing up in Oklahoma in the 1970s. ... a satisfying and well-written novel. — Library Journal

Womack has a sharp eye for the landscape of eastern Oklahoma lake country and a sharp ear for the language of its people. But rather than simply recording, he has drawn upon both native (and Native) and literary traditions to create an important contributioon to Native American writing — and to literature not confined by adjectives. — World Literature Today

Womack is as skillful at capturing the gritty textures of an Indian settlement in 1902 as he is at conveying the abstract loneliness of a present-day Oklahoma City gay bar. Seamlessly weaving together past and present, dreams and reality, and populated by a large cast of eccentric, sharply drawn characters, Drowning in Fire is a provocative novel of sexual and cultural identity, filled with the best traits of the people it portrays: wisdom and compassion. — Rain Taxi

There is much to praise in Womack's rendering of the uneasy dawning of gay sexuality within the competitive world of teenage boys, the stark reality of small town life and the multiple frustrations of racist and cultural politics, and the sustaining power of storytelling and memory. — Lambda Book Report

Melding memory and poetic vision, grim conflict and sly humor, Womack provides in this novel a powerful, richly crafted evocation of tribal specificity and same-sex love. — Gay and Lesbian Review

A review can only praise rather than convey adequately the complexity of the structure and the language — words are seen as objects, mirrors, weapons — and the imagery of fire and water central to the novel. Dozens of critical articles are sure to analyze the artistry of this first novel by a new and distinctive Native American voice. — Southwest Book Views

Sets the artistic standard for all writers who take seriously the call to give something meaningful back to their communities. — Studies in American Indian Literature

Drowning in Fire looms like spring thunderclouds on the plains. It sets on the horizons of a new Indian literature and the new American studies as part of an emerging genre of texts that truly evoke the reciprocity between life and land and between past and future. — American Indian Quarterly

Womack breaks new ground by depicting gay Native characters whose sexual identities tie them to, rather than separate them from, both their tribal histories and their present-day tribal cultures. — Western American Literature

What Womack accomplishes with this novel is a shattering of myth. Josh Henneha could be everyman, regardless of race, culture, or sexual preference. — Bloomsbury Review

Red on Red: Native American LiterarySeparatism
Copyright © 1999
by Craig Womack
U of Minnesota P
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An entertaining and enlightening proposal for a new way to read Native American literature.
How can a square peg fit into a round hole? It can't. How can a door be unlocked with a pencil? It can't. How can Native literature be read applying conventional postmodern literary criticism? It can't.
That is Craig Womack's argument in Red on Red. Indian communities have their own intellectual and cultural traditions that are well equipped to analyze Native literary production. These traditions should be the eyes through which the texts are viewed. To analyze a Native text with the methods currently dominant in the academy, according to the author, is like studying the stars with a magnifying glass.
In an unconventional and piercingly humorous appeal, Womack creates a dialogue between essays on Native literature and fictional letters from Creek characters who comment on the essays. Through this conceit, Womack demonstrates an alternative approach to American Indian literature, with the letters serving as a "Creek chorus" that offers answers to the questions raised in his more traditional essays. Topics range from a comparison of contemporary oral versions of Creek stories and the translations of those stories dating back to the early twentieth century, to a queer reading of Cherokee author Lynn Riggs's play The Cherokee Night.
Womack argues that the meaning of works by Native peoples inevitably changes through evaluation by the dominant culture. Red on Red is a call for self-determination on the part of Native writers and a demonstration of an important new approach to studying Native works — one that engages not only the literature, but also the community from which the work grew. — from the jacket

This is the first book to really address a Muscogean literary aesthetic from a Muscogean point of view. This is where any discussion of native literatures must begin, from the heart of the community, in this case — from the fire at the center of the ceremonial grounds. I always think of the story of a white anthropologist who asked a non-western people about their ideology, their philosophy. Their answer? We just dance. — Joy Harjo,

Creek-Cherokee Womack has produced a groundbreaking literary work. It is a stunning model of how Indian scholars can explicate tribal-specific oral and written works with an understanding of the political ramifications for real Indian peoples. Womack convincingly and clearly explains how contemporary literary theories are inadequate and colonial for American Indian literatures. His application of tribal-based criticism is brilliant. — MultiCultural Review

The struggle of Native scholars to develop a distinctly Native literary criticism — one that draws from tribal histories, stories, and traditions, rather than accepting Eurocentric and often racist standards of critical and artistic sophistication — has seen varied degrees of success since the late 1970s. Now, at the edge of the colonizers' millennium, easily one of the most nuanced, respectful, and penetrating examples of such scholarship has appeared in Craig Womack's Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. This study is a welcome corrective to the too common insistence among many scholars in Native American literatures that there is still an all-encompassing, pan-Indian understanding of Native texts and cultural expressions. Womack distinguishes himself as, above all else, a sophisticated Creek scholar. Yet those of us from other Native traditions will find the book equally indispensable in its offering of a clear blueprint for writing about, expressing, and continuing our own histories and world views. Womack advocates not only a Native-centered understanding of Native literatures, but also a reevaluation of the entire concept of the American literary canon, centering that discussion in Indian Country. Red on Red stands as a powerful, evocative example of such a criticism and is vital reading for anyone — Indian and non-Indian alike — who seeks to better understand the literatures of America. — Great Plains Quarterly

Interweaving Creek history, literature, religion, and politics, Womack breaks the false barriers of genre and categorical thought to argue that a "vanishing mentality" has captured the cultural imagination of Indian and non-Indian alike making us believe in our own diminishment as cultures and cultural beings. Many of my Anglo students think of themselves as having little or no culture, and many of my Indian students think of themselves as having less culture than their ancestors. At heart, Red on Red is a deeply political work, a work that celebrates oral as well as written cultural expressions — in a wide range of what would be thought of as "genres" (myths, tales, journalism, fiction, etc.) —because Womack ultimately does not see speech/writing as separate and does not see orality as prior to writing. Neither does he see religious thought and action as set apart from political thought and action. — Kathryn W Shanley, The Montana Professor

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