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Storytelling Central to Separate, Related Lives

By Annette
Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove dressed as the heroine of her novel Cogewea, The Half-Blood. (Photograph by Lucullus McWhorter. Courtesy of Historical Photograph Collections, Washington State University Libraries.)
This woman is all about stories.

There's one that includes a dream vision. There's one about how she became interested in Native American literature. There's a story associated with what she'd like for an epitaph. And, I'm told, there are hilarious performances, done with a colleague, on the two women's jaundiced views of the 1960s and 70s.

Alanna Brown (right) and Robbi Ferron, whom Brown credits with sparking her initial interest in Native American literature and issues. (Alanna Brown photo)
Alanna Brown, Montana State University professor of English, is an ongoing narrative mixed with humor, complexity, emotion and, sometimes, bite. One element of her stories connects to another like the intricate strands of a spider web.

"The power of stories is something I did not learn from my own culture," Brown said, looking up one afternoon from a currant scone and a cup of tea.

But now she believes, passionately, that stories are all people have to sustain themselves amidst spiritual, moral, physical and cultural dangers.

"In oral traditions, all stories--my story, your story, any narrative of an experience we have--are pieces of a process that maintains a cultural unfolding, an ongoing cultural unfolding," Brown said.

Her years of work on the stories of a turn-of-the-century Native American author have cast her as the foremost scholar on the topic and brought her the recognition of her colleagues. Last year, Brown was awarded the inaugural Western Region Phi Kappa Phi Scholar Award for her years of work on Mourning Dove.

When Brown received the award last year in Portland, she told stories--hers as well as Mourning Dove's--illustrating how closely the two have become intertwined.

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