Such moments led Louis Owens to say that in A Yellow
Raft in Blue Water the video village replaces the tribal village.
Although mixed-blood identity is a common theme in twentieth-century Native American literature,
Dorris is the first writer to present a mixed-blood character who is part Native American and part black:
her father, Elgin, is an African American postal worker.
In an essay for , Michael Dorris wrote that life "demands wariness,humility, patience, and the lonely nurturing of a self-image strong enoughto stand up to all challengers, whether intentionally malevolent or merelystupid." Whether malevolent, like alcoholism in all its forms, or merelystupid, like magazine, it took an incredibleweight of indomitable challengers to finally break Dorris.
Between April and August, more information about rifts in Dorris'marriage to poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, and about his oftentumultuous relationship with their children has been exhumed.
They published several short
stories jointly under the pseudonym Milou North -- the first name combines parts of their first names;
the last refers to the part of the country in which they were living.
The Dorris-Erdrich collaboration has been the topic of considerable curiosity; although they generally
publish a book under the name of whichever of them is the primary author, they collaborate on every
Dorris and Erdrich insist that their collaboration enhances, rather than limits, their individual creativity,
and that it keeps them from suffering from writer's block.
Although his poetry has been published in such journals as Sun Tracks, Akwesasne Notes, Wassaja,
and Ploughshares, Dorris is best known for his prose.
His first novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
(1987), has received critical praise and is examined in literature courses at colleges and universities
throughout the United States.
In this novel, Dorris presents the interrelated but distinct narratives of
three generations of women.
In a typical modernist technique, each of the novel's three sections is narrated by a different
character: the story begins with the fifteen-year-old, part-Indian Rayona; continues with her mother,
Christine; and concludes with Rayona's "grandmother," Ida, who prefers, for reasons that are
surprising and dramatic when they are finally revealed, to be called "Aunt Ida." Each of the narrators
is entirely convincing and engaging, even when she contradicts or quibbles with what the others have
As in Dorris's short fiction, allusions to television abound in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.
In the 1987
interview with Wong, Dorris explains that he was "totally weaned on television" and that in the novel
references to television serve as "a marker of time and class." In one comic scene Christine, leaving
Seattle to return to the reservation in Montana to die, stops by a video store to buy a lifetime
membership for her daughter even though they do not own a videocassette recorder and the sound
on their television set is barely audible.
Christine says to Rayona, "It's like something I'd leave you." She checks out two tapes, misinterpreting
lifetime to mean that they can be kept permanently: Christine (1983), a horror film about a vengeful
car that goes on a murderous rampage, and Little Big Man (1970), a movie image of Plains Indians,
are all that Christine can bequeath to Rayona.
In a 1991 interview with Douglas Foster, included in Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael
Dorris, Dorris explains that "Columbus is a metaphor"; he "stands for a notion of encounter of the
unexpected." The novel is, thus, about unanticipated encounters: Vivian and Roger must open their
minds and hearts to discover Columbus and each other.
In addition, both A Yellow Raft
in Blue Water and The Crown of Columbus dramatize a quest for personal identity and historical
accuracy through remembering the past and imaginatively reconstructing it in the present.
Working Men (1993) is a collection of fourteen short stories, ten of which were published previously.
In a 1989 interview with Bill Moyers, included in
Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris (1994), edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl
Chavkin, Dorris tells an anecdote about being approached by a Boy Scout leader whose "troop
wanted to be absolutely authentic Iroquois, so they were going to go live in the woods for a week."
When asked what he would recommend for the boys to take along, Dorris, considering the matrilineal
traditions of the Iroquois, replied: "Their mothers." The scouts were clearly disappointed, since "they
wanted hatchets or something."
From 1977 to 1979 Dorris served on the editorial board of MELUS: The Journal of the Society of
Multiethnic Literatures in the United States; he has served in the same capacity for the American
Indian Culture and Research Journal since 1974.
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