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Red Corn is first Tribal Fellows scholar

Osage novelist works on second book at Dartmouth

Since arriving in Hanover from Oklahoma last September, novelist Charles Red Corn has learned the names of the entire Red Sox lineup, logged hours in the Native American Studies Research Library in Sherman House, and fallen in love with the Connecticut River.

More importantly, Red Corn has had the time to convert a raw idea into the outline of his second novel.


Author Charles Red Corn, Dartmouth's first Tribal Scholars Fellow, with his wife, Jeri Red Corn. A member of the Osage tribe, Charles Red Corn is working on his second novel and will host a public discussion at Sherman House at noon on Thursday, Nov. 11. Jeri Red Corn, a member of the Caddo tribe, is researching and recovering the ancient pottery traditions of the Caddo people.  (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Red Corn is the first Fellow of the Tribal Scholars Program in Dartmouth's Native American Studies Program.

"The fellowship is designed to give tribal scholars an opportunity they might otherwise not have," said Collin Calloway, Professor of History and Native American Studies, Chair of the Native American Studies Program and Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies.

 "The program is designed for those who don't have the luxury of time to pursue their own work or who lack access to university resources," Calloway said. "It's easy for us here to take these things for granted but for many artists and authors not in academia, this is a real opportunity."

Funded by alumni gifts, especially from the Class of 1943, the Tribal Scholars Program provides fellows with an office in Sherman House, library and computer resources and housing for a month to two months. 

"We're delighted that he's here," Calloway said of Red Corn. "While the Fellowship helps him with his own work, his presence here is a resource for the entire community."

For Red Corn, the fellowship is working exactly as intended.

"Some folks can hold a job and write at the same time," he says. "I just don't have that ability. I didn't realize before I wrote a book how such an endeavor takes over your waking moments. Even when you're not writing, you're thinking about it. That's what this time at Dartmouth is giving me."

Red Corn, an Osage Tribal member, said he always wanted to write. But his work as a business consultant and as director of educational and development projects in Indian Country and the Oklahoma Indian Association took all of his time and energy. In August 1998, he finally decided to take time off to write "the book I have in my head."

After 39 drafts, that book, based on stories Red Corn heard since childhood, became his first novel. A Pipe for February was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2002.

Based on a real-life series of murders, A Pipe for February unfolds in the 1920s, after commercial oil and mineral leases to their land made the Osage of Oklahoma the richest Native American tribe in the United States. While clinging to at least some of their old traditions, the Osage acquired fancy cars, enjoyed elegant homes and European clothes and traveled abroad. Then a series of mysterious, "accidental" deaths began to loom over the tribe's well being.

Red Corn's transformation of history into emotionally charged fiction makes the story, according to the Publishers Weekly review, "an enthralling one with some taut, slam-bang action. Yet it's Red Corn's loving descriptions of Osage customs and the moral dilemmas posed by their sudden wealth that make this book a particularly rewarding read."

Red Corn's new book will be based on a series of lawsuits now unfolding in the nation's courts that seek to recover billions in royalties and other funds owed to Native Americans across the country. 

"One of the attorneys involved thought I could tell the story in a way that wasn't a legal document," Red Corn said. "There's a long historical background. Some of the individuals I am writing about I knew, and three or four cases I worked on personally."

 "It would not be a legal report, but a story about Indian sovereignty going back to the late 19th century," he added. "It's partly the cultural history of tribes I'm talking about. Pulling all that together in a believable way is the problem, and that's what I've been able to work out at Dartmouth. In my writing I acknowledge that American Indians have been treated badly, but I also want to communicate those things that have sustained us. I tend to think our ancient teachings are what pull us through." 

Although Red Corn is on campus primarily to do his own work, much of the benefit of the Tribal Scholars Program will come back to Dartmouth.

"The fellows are part of the academic community, with interactions with faculty and students," Calloway said. "People like Charles serve as important role models for all Dartmouth students. The fellowship enhances our program because it brings people with a range of life experiences and increases our contacts in Native communities. It's also a way of making Dartmouth even more open to people from Indian Country and helps people think of this as a place for Native students to come."

Actually, Red Corn already has family connections to campus. His daughter, Moira Red Corn, is a member of the Class of 1988. She is now attending medical school. A niece graduated in 1989.

Moira Red Corn clearly still has fond memories of autumn in Hanover.

"My daughter calls every three or four days," Red Corn said, "and asks me what the leaves are like."

By PETER WALSH

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Last Updated: 12/17/08