Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac is a highly acclaimed children’s book author, poet, novelist, and storyteller, as well as a scholar of Native American culture. He is the coauthor of the bestselling Keepers of the Earth series with Michael Caduto. Bruchac’s poems, articles, and stories have appeared in hundreds of publications from Akwesasne Notes and American Poetry Review to National Geographic and Parabola. He has authored many books for adults and children including Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two, Skeleton Man, and The Heart of a Chief.

Bruchac's new novel is Peacemaker.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Peacemaker was chosen for several reasons. It introduces the central theme of the book —bringing peace at a time of conflict. It also directly relates to the story of the founding centuries ago of the League of the Five Nations (or Iroquois) by a messenger from the Creator who was known as the Peacemaker. Further, the main character of the book is a young man who is himself in need of peace and seeks a way to help bring it.

What’s in a name?

I chose the name Okwaho for my main character not just because it is an Iroquois name that might be given to a boy. (An Iroquois poet friend of mine had that name, though he used the Mohawk spelling of Rokwaho.)

I also chose it because Okwaho means “wolf.” The wolf is deeply respected by Native American people in general. The wolf is regarded as a teacher and a model for good behavior. They have great courage. And wolves work together, they sing together, and every wolf in a wolf pack takes care of all of the cubs.

Also, there are also three main clans among all the different Iroquois nations. Those clans are wolf, turtle, and bear. So his name ties even more into his tribal identity.

How surprised would you were a teenage reader self be by your novel?

As a teenager, my favorite reading was natural history. In fact, when I went to college at Cornell University it was to major in wildlife conservation. I imagined myself as a writer, but not one writing historical fiction or stories about Native American themes. I thought I would be a naturalist.But, bit by bit, as I learned more as a young adult from different Native elders – – such as Ray Tehanetorens Fadden— I realized that writing books such as this one was my true calling.

Also, quite frankly, when I was a teenager in the 1950s there were no books like this one I’ve just written. Most books about Native Americans back then were full of stereotypes and negative images. So they did not interest me.

Writing books that would’ve interested my teenage self, especially books at all the true stories about Native Americans, became my goal—Especially after having children of my own.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me, writing a work of fiction is often like a journey on the road without a detailed map. I have an idea where I’m going, but I may not know all the twists and turns or the events that happened along the road. In the case of this novel I knew that I wanted to end it with the arrival of the Peacemaker and the bringing together of the five warring nations.

After all, that is what happened historically and this is a historical novel. However I wasn’t sure what exact role my main character would take and if he would add anything to the events that brought the five nations together. It was sort of a surprise to me that he ended up being the one to provide a crucial piece to the puzzle.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I was once told by an American poet named John Logan that (And this is a paraphrase) as we travel through our writing we are always meeting heroes and monsters – – and ourselves. I think there was always a bit of me and my own experiences in my main characters. That includes when they do things that are uncertain or illogical or just plain wrong. Not just when they are awake or intelligent or well balanced. I think the biggest connection to my personality in the case of my main character in Peacemaker is that I, too, believe in reconciliation and the possibility of peace. in fact, I always sign my emails and my letters with the word “Peace.”

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I have always been inspired by music and in the case of this book, I often heard the sounds and rhythms of traditional Iroquois music as I was writing it. And, if you could call storytelling non-literary, I certainly was deeply influenced by the oral tradition.
Visit Joseph Bruchac's website.

--Marshal Zeringue