This author decided to create a book of Native American stories, small tales with a very local focus
. Not epics. Not particularly happy stories either. Not fancy literature. But the kind of stories that people live and the kind they tell. Why? He didn't feel that mainstream stories -- mostly created by people who aren't Native American -- were representational.
That's typical of Native American literature, actually. Much of it is as dark and gritty as Indian coffee. The authors dump a handful of story grounds into a coffeepot and shove it into a campfire. For hours. Strong stuff. I remember that from Joy Harjo and Leslie Marmon Silko.
The literature is this way today because being Native American tends to make the mainstream culture dump on you. The reservations are mostly dirt poor, and by "dirt poor" I mean not all the houses have floors or running water or electricity and few of the roads are paved. Living elsewhere makes it hard to stay in touch with your tribal culture, hard not to assimilate. There isn't really a low-stress option.
So on the one hand, we're gradually building up a pretty thorough collection of stories about what it's like to be Native American today. It's good to have stories written by and for and about a particular culture. People notice things that way which would otherwise get missed.
On the other hand, when a preponderance of stories have a bleak mood because the present is bleak, that can make it hard for people to see OUT of that -- to imagine a more hopeful future, to believe that change is possible, to think about what it could mean for their culture to still exist in a hundred or a thousand years. That conversation has been had in a number of other focal literatures including women's literature, queer literature, Jewish literature, black literature, etc. It's particularly true in science fiction, where authors often look ahead and place their characters in dystopic or utopian settings. I am particularly reminded, however, of something that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to Nichelle Nichols about playing Lt. Uhura in Star Trek:
"You show that black people are still there in the future. You show that we SURVIVE."
Do you speak of what is true, when it's often nasty? Do you speak of what is possible, when it may not be manifest at the time?
My answer is this: Tell ALL the stories. Encourage as many people as possible to write -- or draw, or photograph, or sing, or whatever -- of their experiences and hopes and fears. Get it all out. Take it all in. Write and read widely. Because life is like coffee with sugar: you can't separate the bitter and the sweet, every taste is touched with both.
You don't have to be famous or an expert. You don't have to have an agent or a publisher, although sometimes that helps. No matter how small or how strange is the story you want to tell, there is something meaningful in it. No matter how awkward your skill, you have to start somewhere and will get better if you keep going. No matter how far you are from the mainstream, there are other people out there who have something in common with you and with the tales you tell. If you're not seeing yourself reflected in what's already published, do something about that.
So go for it. Tell ALL the stories.