The Puzzle of Ethnic Literary Labels

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So here’s a question that might seem kind of obvious — how do you know a book is “Native American?” Is it because the author is a member or citizen of a tribe? Is it that the characters have Indian roots? Is it that the story is set on a reservation?

This is the kind of puzzle David Treuer likes to set for his students. Treuer is Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation. He’s a literature professor at the University of Southern California, as well as a writer and a novelist. And he does not believe in putting fiction into ethnic boxes.