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November 18, 2009
By Skyler Dillon
The Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College is trying to boost understanding of Native American culture and customs with the help of one University of Nevada, Reno professor.
From October to December, Miami Dade College, in partnership with the Miami-Dade Public Library System, is encouraging its community to read Native American author Louise Erdrich's novel "Love Medicine," and to participate in corresponding book discussions, film screenings and author presentations. Professor and Erdrich scholar Lorena Stookey traveled to Miami recently to give a keynote address on the book and to lead several discussion groups.
"It's a huge celebration of books and culture," she said of the event. "It was so much fun to be a part of."
Stookey's speech was part of Miami's celebration of The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts program that attempts to bring reading to the forefront of American culture by providing a list of books rewarding to read. The Big Read also offers author panels, discussion groups and more as part of community programs to help readers fully enjoy and appreciate the works. "Love Medicine" is one of the nearly 30 recommended books, including "To Kill a Mockingbird," "My Antonia" and "The Joy Luck Club." According to Stookey, the detailed and realistic stories in "Love Medicine" make it and Erdrich's other works both fascinating and influential.
"The world she's created is extremely intricate," Stookey said. "The plots and characters are just strands woven into an immense design."
Stookey's interest in Erdrich's work led her to publish "Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion" in 1999. The book analyzes the themes and symbolism written into Erdrich's work and as a guide to help readers navigate the often complicated connections throughout Erdrich's novels, which besides "Love Medicine" include "Tracks," "The Beet Queen," "The Antelope Wife" and more. Her most recent novel, "A Plague of Doves," was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize this year. Stookey was happy to see the enthusiasm Erdrich's work inspired at The Big Read, especially in the students.
"There were lots of interesting questions raised," she said. "It was a great pleasure to be able to discuss them in detail."
This semester, Stookey is having her own Native American literature students read "Love Medicine," and recommends it to the rest of campus as an example of the resilient nature of Native American culture.
"It's illustrative of the fact the culture has survived," she said. "It's lovely and vivacious. There's tragedy, but there's also celebration."
Stookey, a 27-year Nevada professor, is a veteran of publishing literary companions such as the one focusing on Erdrich. She has written about the work of Tom Robbins and, most recently, about themes pervading mythology of different cultures in her "Thematic Guide to World Mythology." She is currently studying detective fiction, particularly novels with Native American protagonists, and teaches classes on Native American literature, literary theory and feminism.