An Interview with Oscar Hokeah
Tacey M. Atsitty
Oscar Hokeah is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma from his mother's side and has Mexican heritage through his father. He holds an MA in English with a concentration in Native American Literature from the University of Oklahoma, as well as a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), with a minor in Indigenous liberal studies. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award through IAIA and is also a winner of the Native Writer Award through the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. His short stories have been published in South Dakota Review, American Short Fiction, Yellow Medicine Review, Surreal South, and Red Ink Magazine. He works with Indian Child Welfare in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Told in a series of voices, Calling for a Blanket Dance takes us into the life of Ever Geimausaddle through the multigenerational perspectives of his family as they face myriad obstacles. His father’s injury at the hands of corrupt police, his mother's struggle to hold on to her job and care for her husband, the constant resettlement of the family, and the legacy of centuries of injustice all intensify Ever’s bottled-up rage. Meanwhile, all of Ever’s relatives have ideas about who he is and who he should be. His Cherokee grandmother urges the family to move across Oklahoma to find security; his grandfather hopes to reunite him with his heritage through traditional gourd dances; his Kiowa cousin reminds him that he’s connected to an ancestral past. And once an adult, Ever must take the strength given to him by his relatives to save not only himself but also the next generation of family.
How will this young man visualize a place for himself when the world hasn’t given him a place to start with? Honest, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, Calling for a Blanket Dance is the story of how Ever Geimausaddle found his way to home.
Hokeah’s debut novel will be released with Algonquin Books on July 26, 2022, but you can pre-order it here: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781643751474.
Tacey M. Atsitty: Congratulations on your debut book, first of all! What an accomplishment! It’s been some time since we were running around campus all those years ago as students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Recalling those years, was this how you thought it might go for your first book Calling for a Blanket Dance? Tell us about the genesis and journey you’ve taken since we were students. What were some of the challenges of writing and how did you overcome them? How did it all come together?
Oscar Hokeah: Thank you. I’d like to extend my gratitude for your invitation to do this interview. I’m very grateful. It has been some time. I think of that young guy back at IAIA and he seems like a completely different person. It’s interesting how much we change over the years. Now I’m a grandpa with my first grandson being born in February 2022. It’s been quite the journey between then and now. It’s hard to capture so many dynamics. But there were key experiences that played into the debut, like a second divorce and growing a larger family. So much life has been lived and it comes through in Ever Geimausaddle’s journey in the novel.
I use what some might call a “semi-autobiographical fiction,” where I draw from real-life situations—sometimes my own and sometimes friends and family around me—and I fictionalize those experiences. The novel came together in pieces, like the fragments that shape Ever’s memory, where I wrote two of the chapters at IAIA in 2008 and 2009 as short stories, went through writer’s block for a couple years, and then started writing again in 2012 after I graduated from OU. It was my education at OU that taught me how to use broad thematics to pull a story together. It was much easier for me to see the two stories written at IAIA as a collection of stories revolving around a single character. Once I connected with an agent in 2018, I then began to shape the novel with a much tighter structure. Once my editor came into the picture in 2020, we sliced and diced, then the novel Calling for a Blanket Dance was born. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the publishing industry. I love the rigors of developing a novel with a team.
TA: I must say, the storyline is just gripping. When I received my copy in the mail, I decided to hold off reading it until Spring Break. But then I thought, “I’ll just read the first page.” Next thing I knew, I was reading it at intersections while waiting for the light to turn green (I don’t recommend this at home), in the truck waiting for my husband to get out of class, and even while eating my lunch. The stories are heartbreaking but real. Calling for a Blanket Dance revolves around the main character Everarado (called “Ever”) and all his relations. As an infant, he witnesses, or is at least present, to a violent act against his father. How does this shape Ever throughout the book?
OH: I’m glad you asked this question. The violent act in the first pages is extremely pivotal in Ever’s life. I had written a different scene initially. It was based on one of my earliest memories. In the real-life situation, it wasn’t my father who was the victim, but my mother. It was so traumatizing that I can still get emotional about it today. This is an example of how I take a real-life situation and then fictionalize it for a story.
Trauma can start in the womb. Or in Ever's case, while still in infancy.
Ever Geimausaddle is shaped by an unattainable ideal of manhood. What most folks describe as toxic masculinity. I needed to show how acts like this at such a young age can shape a child’s life. Trauma can start in the womb. Or in Ever’s case, while still in infancy. My style of writing is more of a daytime drama than Hollywood sensationalism. When Ever’s father gets attacked by corrupt police, it’s a signal to male-on-male violence, and how male-on-male violence creates toxic masculinity. By the time Ever’s a teen, he is fully initiated into a brutal version of manhood. It leaves the reader to wonder about the very thing Ever’s family is struggling against: will he ever be cured?