Rez Life: Taking Tragedy out of the Native American Narrative

By LM Ellzey '13, Contributing Writer

David Treuer is a big name in the literary circuit, be it for his award-winning novels, his snarky book of literary criticisms, or his work as a professor in post- grad literature at the University of Southern California. Treuer has been hopping around the states, touring for his new book, but what makes his newest endeavor different from Little, The Hiawatha, or The Translation of Dr. Apelles?

This time around, Treuer surprises with his first piece of non-fiction, Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life. Seven years in the making, Rez Life is a culmination of personal stories, some Treuer’s, some interviewees’. All in all, it provides a thoughtful, in- depth look at the life of an Ojibwe Indian.

Before his reading on April 18 in Denison Library’s Holbein Room, Treuer sat and spoke with me for a few moments. Luckily, I’ve met Treuer before, in the class he taught at Scripps only one year ago, back when he was the Mary Routt Chair of Writing. He smiled and reminisced, saying, “That class was one of the best I’ve taught. Really the energy was great.”

Moving past remembrances of Scripps, Treuer described his own journey in writing Rez Life. He recalls having to “start over” from scratch for the first time: “My editor was younger than me. He told me my piece just couldn’t work. I remember thinking he was an idiot, but I took his advice. And, well, he was mostly right.”

Truer continued, “I was raised on Leech Lake Reservation, but on the outskirts, not in the center. Life is different depending on where you lived. There is not one rez life, but rez lives. There are people on the reservation who are happy, living relatively untroubled lives.” Treuer explained that tragedy is the only light Natives are seen in these days. He wants to move away from all that, for no other reason than “it’s just not how things are.”

Is more non-fiction in Treuer’s future? “I’m working on another book of literary criticisms,” he said. “I’m still walking down the non-fiction path. With non- fiction, there’s just facts. In fiction, I have to work to create the mystery of a world. Non-fiction narrows the lens, and I can concentrate on telling people’s stories as authentically as possible.” Fact or fiction, Treuer’s not stopping any time soon.