There are many ways to respectfully celebrate Native American Heritage Month or National Native American Heritage Day—which falls on November 24 this year— including researching the Tribal land you live on and learning more about the experience of young Native people. You might also pick up a good book by an Indigenous author.
Today, there is a lot of great contemporary literature by Native American authors available to check out, in stark contrast to yesteryear. Before 1968, only a handful of books by Native people had been published in the United States. It’s a welcome change, not just for the Indigenous authors who want to tell their stories but also for readers who want to broaden their libraries to include more voices.
While the authors below are very much keeping a tradition of storytelling alive, their works couldn’t be more different. You’ll find fantasy, horror, poetry, literary fiction and more on our list of must-read books by Native American authors.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
In an epic fantasy inspired by Pre-Columbian Americas, Rebecca Roanhorse weaves an Indigenous fantasy world around Xiala, a sea captain, and Serapio, the vessel of an ancient crow god. In the holy city of Tova, the sun priests are preparing for a phenomenal celestial event. Naranpa, the sun priestess, is thwarting attacks on her life as politics amongst the priests threaten her position. Black Sun is thoughtful in its portrayal of a queer normative world with disabled characters. In fact, Roanhorse builds a tremendous world with old tales—and readers will be entranced by the slow-burn romance.
To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose
Dragon fans will love this novel, which is the first in a series. On the island of Masquapaug, a young Indigenous woman finds the egg of a nearly extinct dragon and bonds with it. The tales her people tell about dragons ignite hope in young Anequs and nourish her relationship with a baby dragon, Kasaqua. It’s been a long time since her people have seen dragons, but the Anglish colonizers take Anequs to their industrial city and enroll her in a dragon academy that controls her education in a colonialist system.
White Horse by Erica Wurth
This book follows Kari James, an Indigenous woman who reads a lot of horror novels and loves heavy metal is troubled by a traumatic past. When her cousin, Debby, finds a bracelet belonging to her mother, dark secrets unravel into more questions about the past she thought was buried. Visions of her mother haunt her, and Kari must find a way to dig deep into herself to heal from the past she’s always avoided.
Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo
Famed poet Joy Harjo’s deeply evocative writing is an expression of Native American activism and feminism that both preserves cultural traditions and inspires hope for the future. The present-day and history are combined as Harjo reminds readers of the Trail of Tears, the people lost and the atrocities that still leave a footprint on Native communities today. This is the perfect gift for those who love poetry—and for those that don’t.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones’ most popular horror novel is not only a tribute to the genre but also ignited a demand for Indigenous horror in the publishing world. In this a dark novel about Native identity and breaking off from tradition, Graham Jones weaves a spine-tingling narrative. A revenge story set in Indian Country, the novel follows four Blackfeet Nation men haunted by a strange entity that is tied to an elk hunt in their pasts—ultimately becoming a blood-drenched slasher that explores the cultural anxieties in Native communities.
Swim Home to the Vanished by Brendan Shay Basham
This book is a brilliant tale of grief told as a creation myth. Protagonist Damien, a Diné man, is overwhelmed by the loss of his little brother, Kai, to drowning. Months later, he quits his job and embarks on a strange and fantastic journey that’s melancholy and hallucinatory in equal measure. He travels to a fishing village to forget his loss, and there he’s drawn into by warmth of a family struggling with a loss of their own. This story is inspired by the Navajo Long Walk and the history of the Diné people, but contains mysteries and multitudes.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel imagines a world wrecked by a climate apocalypse in which the gods and heroes of Native myths walk the land. Her protagonist is Maggie Hoskie, a Dinétah monster hunter with a heavily chipped shoulder. With the help of an unconventional medicine man, Kai Arviso, she hunts a monster straight out of ancient legends, making it the perfect late-fall read for anyone who is enthralled by the idea of walking gods in a richly detailed apocalyptic world.
A Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Power
The PEN Award–winning Power has written a sweeping historical novel about three generations of Dakhóta and Lakhóta women grappling with the traumatic effects of colonialism. The moving story is told, in large part, through the character’s beloved dolls: a Black Tiny Thumbelina doll in the 1960s, a Shirley Temple doll in the 1930s and a traditional Dakota doll at the start of the 20th Century. Each woman is connected through a story about the impacts of abuse and survival.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Round House, which won Erdrich the National Book Award for fiction in 2012, is one of her most emotionally engrossing novels. Set on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, it follows a young Native boy as he witnesses justice failing in his community. Joe’s mother ends up in the hospital after she was beaten and raped at the community’s round house. As he watches his mother fall deeper into trauma resulting from the attack, Joe is compelled to help solve the crime. Erdrich tells a deeply thoughtful story with a feathered touch, making the truths she tells all the more harrowing.
Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina (which was nominated for the National Book Award in the U.S. in 2019), followed up her first book’s success with a book chronicling five generations of one Indigenous Chicano family facing the nefarious effects of colonization. It spans history to shed light on the sacrifices of Chicana women in a story that is beautiful, fiery and colorful, with a just touch of magical realism. “I knew as a late teenager, and in my early 20s, that I wanted to tell the stories of my ancestors in a novel form,” the author told Observer in an interview earlier this year.