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Deborah Miranda Co-Edits Book of Fiction by “Two-Spirit” Native Americans

A new book co-edited by Deborah Miranda, associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is a finalist for three awards. Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two-Spirit Literature (University of Arizona Press, 2012), which brings together fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry by “two spirit” Native American writers, is not only a finalist in the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards in the anthology category but is also a finalist in two categories of the Lambda Literary Awards.

“Two-spirit refers to a person who is gender variable,” explained Miranda.”In the English vernacular we might call them gay, although that doesn’t connote the deeply spiritual side of the role. There have always been two-spirited people in many Native American communities and each tribe had its own word for them. At a conference in 1990 a group of Native people came up with two-spirit as a description that was not tribally specific yet indicated the connection between duality and spirituality.

“I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this,” Miranda added. “This is really a landmark collection and is only the second collection of gay native writing since a creative anthology was published in 1988.”

Miranda said that some of the authors in the anthology are very famous writers, including some from Canada and New Zealand. “We interpreted the meaning of indigenous very broadly,” she said, “so the collection is pretty widespread. Most of the writers have never been together in the same anthology, so this is quite an accomplishment.” Miranda’s own tribe is the Esselen tribe around the Carmel, Monterrey and Big Sur area of California.

In a book review, Publishers Weekly described the collection as: “At turns angry and wounded, sexy and joyous, hopeful and wistful, this outstanding anthology belongs on the shelves of all readers interested in contemporary American Indian writing and American LGBTQ topics.”

“Publishers Weekly surprised us with their great review of a collection from such a small writing community,” said Miranda. “We also had a lot of outside support for the book such as funding from a new organization called First People’s New Directions to Indigenous Studies. Also, University of Arizona Press arranged for me to do a signing at the Associated Writers Program this year, which had 20,000 people in attendance. Other co-editors are also doing readings and signings at conferences around North America, which has really increased our visibility.”

Miranda is one of four editors of the book and also contributed two pieces of creative writing. The first is a short story, Coyote Takes a Trip, which the Publishers Weekly review described as a “rollicking modern Coyote tale that puts the trickster’s attraction to a two-spirited man in the historical context of two-spirited people.”

Her second contribution is a short poem. “It’s the last piece in the collection and it’s a very erotic view of eating a clementine,” said Miranda.

In explaining the history of two-spirited people, Miranda pointed out the Spaniards who colonized the coast found two-spirited people up and down the coast in every tribe, usually men dressed as women, who performed as women, did women’s chores, helped raise the children and were partners with other men. “They lived as women and nobody treated them any differently. In fact, they were much sought after as wives because they could work harder,” she said. “There were also women who lived non-standard gender lives but they weren’t as easily noticed by the Spaniards, so they kind of slipped under the radar. The men were much more obvious.”

The Lambda Literary Awards are now in their 24th year and celebrate achievement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) writing for books published in 2012. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in June in New York at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Miranda received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. She is the author of Indian Cartography: Poems (Greenfield Review Press, 1999), and was the winner of the 1997 Diane Decorah Memorial First Book (poetry) from the Native Writer’s Circle of the Americas. She is also the author of The Zen of La Llorona (Salt Press, 2005). Her book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir will be published by HeyDay Press in January 2013.

Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two-Spirit Literature is available at the University Bookstore or find it on their website at http://bookstore.wlu.edu

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