Montana State University

Grad student traces Native American influence on America's literary lineage

May 14, 2009 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

MSU grad student Amy Gore researches Native American culture and literature. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN -- Like many Montana State University graduate students, Amy Gore studies that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.

But the things Gore studies can't be seen with microscopes or lab equipment either.

Gore studies Native American culture as it relates to literature, and rather than just looking at the words on the page, Gore is digging for something buried beneath those pages, a mostly silent minority "voice" that she believes has had a significant impact on America's literary identity.

Gore, 25, was one of more than 200 MSU students who presented undergraduate and graduate research projects at the university's annual Student Research Celebration in April.

"This project really combined my two passions, literature and Native American culture," said Gore, a native of West Hartland, Conn.

Gore began work on the project in October after being inspired by Toni Morrison's "Playing in the Dark." The book asserts that there has always been a minority influence on mainstream American literature, despite the fact that such literature has been largely ignored by critics.

Morrison's book focused on African American literature and culture, but the ideas translated into the world of Native American culture too, Gore said.

"America's not sure of itself," she said. "At times, we have wanted to be separate from Indian-ness, but all those influences are very mixed in with our literature. We call ourselves a melting pot, and I think that's true."

Gore's project, part of her work as a student in MSU's Native American Studies program, looks at the Native American influence identifiable in classic works by the likes of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville.

Native American Studies Professor Lawrence Gross, one of Gore's teachers, said that Gore's project taps into some of the debates now going on in the world of Native American literature.

"In some ways, talking about Native American literature provides a means for scholars to talk about some other important issues in Native American studies," he said. "I appreciate that Amy is helping to advance the conversation on these issues."

And it's not a bad time to be studying Native American literature, considering that the past few decades have seen an explosive growth in the variety and number of Native American books published, Gore said.

"It's kind of like a Renaissance that's still going on," she said, noting that she hopes to include some aspect of Native American literature in her master's thesis.

In addition to her graduate work at MSU, Gore is also a pursuing a master's degree in English from the Bread Loaf School of English, a program offered by Vermont's Middlebury College.

Gore spends six weeks each summer attending classes at one of that college's four campuses in Vermont, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oxford, England, working on a master's degree in English.

"That's that travel gene for you," said Gore, who's attended seven colleges throughout her academic career.

Gore hopes that her passion for Native American culture and literature will lead to some new insight into the relationships between minorities and mainstream cultures and shed some light on the lineage of America's literariness.

"I think America has a rich identity, and learning about those other cultures that have fed into that identity will give us an even better understanding of ourselves," she said.

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Contact: Michael Becker at 406-994-5140 or