Native Writer Geary Hobson
Geary Hobson (Quapaw/Cherokee/Chickasaw) is a poet,
essayist, critic, scholar, and novelist. He has been at the
forefront of the American Indian literature "renaissance"
for more than thirty years. He is the author of "Deer
Hunting" and Other Poems (1990) as well as the novel The
Last of the Ofos (2000). He is the editor of The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native
American Literature (1979).
Throughout his long career, Hobson has established himself as a tireless advocate for Native American literature
and a promoter of all aspects of Indian culture and history. Central to Hobson's work, especially to his poetry, is
a meditation on the place of humans in the world. He takes as his subjects the whole panoply of life and the
environment--animals, landscape, trees, weather, life, and death--that makes up the natural world for the speakers
of Hobson's poems. People do not simply exist "in" the natural world. Rather, human beings are just more players
in a highly animated and sentient universe.
Hobson was born on 12 June 1941 in Chicot County, Arkansas. He is the son of Arkansas Quapaw Edythe Simpson,
a bookkeeper and writer, and Cherokee Gerald R. Hobson, a surveyor and hunter. Geary's mother has always been a
profound literary and scholarly influence on him. Hobson learned a valuable lesson about formal education when his
mother returned to school and earned a G.E.D. while Hobson was a teenager. Soon thereafter, she began to write
and publish articles on subjects such as community history and genealogy. She worked on a novel during the 1970s,
but it remained unfinished for almost twenty years. Then, with input from Geary, she completed her novel, An
Inquest Every Sunday. Her work won the 2002 First Book Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the
Americas. Other literary influences important to young Hobson include Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner,
Willa Cather, Katherine Anne Porter, Albert Camus, and Henry James.
As a small child, Hobson learned from his father how to hunt and trap. The first dollar Geary ever made was from
a raccoon hide he sold after hunting with his father. Geary calls Gerald "much more traditionally Indian." He
taught Geary and his brother about animals, plants, and the outdoors.
When he graduated from high school, Hobson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for four years of active
duty (1959-1963) and then two years in the reserves. For the bulk of his time in uniform, Hobson was stationed in
Okinawa. He saw action along the Mekong River in Thailand during the American effort--one that ultimately
failed--to prevent the Pathet Lao, Communists in Laos, from making an alliance with the North Vietnamese
government. Immediately after being discharged from the service, Hobson began to write about his experiences.
Short stories such as "The C. O." and "The Odor of Dead Fish" and sections of The Last of the Ofos directly
reference his experience in the Marine Corps.
In 1967 Hobson married Denise Reed, and they had a child named Rachel. In 1968 the marriage ended. This same
year, Hobson graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English literature. He stayed at Arizona and
earned an M.A. in English in 1969. In 1970 he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the University of New
Mexico, where he worked as a teaching assistant.
Hobson began his career as a published author in the early 1970s. His first widely published short story was "The
C. O.," short for "conscientious objector." The story opens as most of Hobson's fiction does, with a detailed and
sweeping description of the landscape. The first essay Hobson published widely was "Native American Writing: A
Renaissance," which appeared in Four Directions in 1974. This essay marked a change in academic focus for
Hobson. From 1973 through 1979 he gradually moved away from the study of American literature and toward the
Native American Studies program, where he became first an instructor, then an administrator. In the summer of
1976 Hobson edited the special Native American edition of New America: A Review. Poet, editor, and critic
Michael Castro writes in SAIL: Studies in American Indian Literature (Winter 1979): "Hobson's introduction
provides an interesting and incisive overview of the 'cycles of interest' in Native American literature, and of
key publications in the field since the turn of the century.
For many, this essay alone will be worth the price of the magazine." By 1976 book reviews became for Hobson a
way to promote fellow Native American writers. He writes in "Somehow the Writing Got Done": "my purpose, as I
saw it, was to cup my hands to the sides of my mouth and yell out to all who would hear about what great little
book I happened to have just finished reading."
Hobson married Barbara G. Torralba on 25 November 1977. They had a child they named Amanda Chekoba. Without
finishing his Ph.D., Hobson, along with wife and daughter, spent 1980-1982 back home in Arkansas. The move to
Arkansas, as he says in "Somehow the Writing Got Done," was an "interlude of creativity, of reconnecting with my
homeland and people and traditions, of relearning the woods and waterways where I had trapped and hunted and
fished subsistently as a boy with my father and other relatives. These two years may have [been] the most
important of my life as a writer."
During that time Hobson worked at the University of Arkansas--Little Rock as an instructor in the English
department and as a member of the Board of Directors at the Arkansas Indian Center. From 1981 through 1983 he
also received a Rockefeller Grant for minority group scholars as well as a National Endowment for the Arts
grant. The idyllic interlude in Arkansas came to an end when Hobson returned to the University of New Mexico to
finish his dissertation and teach in the Native American Studies Program and American Studies Department.
In the early 1980s Hobson began to publish his poetry in journals such as the Greenfield Review, Arizona
Quarterly, and Y'Bird. Four of his poems appeared in the volume he edited, The Remembered Earth: An Anthology
of Contemporary Native American Literature . Although not a nature-poetry anthology, this collection does give
good insight into the genre, especially because a sensitivity to and appreciation for the nonhuman world permeates
Native American writing.
Hobson begins the collection by asserting: "Land is people. Remembering is all." His editorial choices, including
arranging the authors by their region rather than alphabetically or chronologically, point out the primacy that
environmental concerns have for Hobson; nearly every poem (and writer) in the collection takes the natural world
as its theme and setting. In his introduction to Remembered Earth, Hobson raises questions that form the center
of his artistic and academic career.
But as the years progress, identity has become less of a motivating factor among literary themes than
sovereignty, and as part of it, reclaiming the past. Native Americans are concerned about who they are as a
people, and write from the community's perspective--whether the setting is urban or rural--and that sense of
community reaffirms and bolsters sovereignty.
The Remembered Earth also includes Hobson's noteworthy essay "The Rise of the White Shaman as a New Version
of Cultural Imperialism." The "white shaman" of the title refers to the non-Native American poets of the late
1970s who wanted so desperately to absolve their cultural guilt vis-à-vis Native Americans that they pretended
to be channeling Native American spirits in order to appear "authentic." Hobson sees this false shamanism as
another manifestation of the centuries-old exploitation of Native Americans by whites. Taking without
permission, even when done under the guise of "art," "is as imperialistic as those simpler forms of theft, such as
the theft of homeland by treaty." Hobson asserts that the rise in fake shamanism is a problem for Native
American writers because authentic Native Americans who do not conform to the literary norms set by popular
imitations have been ignored by mainstream audiences.
A strong sense of place--an identification of the landscape as a source of ideas about "home"--pervades his own
poems that Hobson includes in The Remembered Earth. "Barbara's Land--May, 1974" is a good example of the role
landscape plays in these poems. (The Barbara in the title, presumably, is Hobson's second wife). A visit to his
future wife's homeland, the dry scrub of the Texas-Oklahoma panhandle, brings thoughts of how a people, in this
case, the Comanches, grew out of and came to be defined by their land.
The air, "hottern the hinges of hell," and the "dry wind" serve to scour the landscape of anything comforting or
easy. The people of this land, as a result of living in and surviving the "hardship" of the hostile place, grew to be
strong, shaped by their environment. The final stanza describes in detail the effect that the close association
with the land had on the Comanche people: "This land is your bones. / You are stronger than concrete, / You are
stronger than steel." In this poem, as in many other of Hobson's poems, including his southeast Asia war poetry,
Hobson places the natural world at the center of all he does.
In 1983 five of Hobson's poems appeared in Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American
Indian Poetry. Each has significant thematic connection to the natural world. "For My Brother and Sister
Southwestern Indian Poets" points to landscape as the determining factor in the speaker's growth as a poet. "I
come from a wet land," the poem opens, "and I never learned to sing for rain." Landscape as a determining factor
in the growth of the artist shows up in other ways in other poems.
"Going to the Water," for example, shows a speaker who might have forgotten how important a connection to the
natural world is; through a ritual at a riverbank, he rediscovers that connection.
The poem opens:
This morning I come to the water again.
It has been a long time.
The speaker uses the water to carry off concerns and problems from the past and to infuse himself with strength
and peace for the future:
". . . and I go shoreward / to burn red tobacco
for the earth's new morning / for the river's new earth.
The natural world portrayed in these five poems is a place of renewal and peace separate from the human-made
civilization, which can be destructive and unhealthy. In the poem "Barbara's Land Revisited--August, 1978" human
settlement is described this way:
lying on the blister
of the Staked Plains' northern rump. . . .
This poem shows the stark difference between human (especially white) civilization and a solitary individual's
intimate, genuine relationship to the land.
In Hobson's "Deer Hunting" he presents two versions of the same event: the butchering of a deer by hunters
after a kill. In the first part, disrespectful and wasteful white hunters do a careless job hacking and slashing as
fast as they can, dumping anything they deem inedible into a stump hole that they proceed to urinate into. In the
second version of the story, the same scene is repeated, but this time, traditional hunters are respectful of the
process. They work with great care and gentleness to do honor to the deer. In fact, a small part of the deer is
left behind in the bushes, "giving back part of the deer's / swiftness."
In the latter case, the experience becomes an integral part of a boy's transition to manhood under the care of
his grandfather. Other poems that appeared in "Deer Hunting" and Other Poems share a similar environmental
consciousness, especially an appreciation for the animal world. The brief "Buffalo Poem #1" shows the connection
the speaker argues must be present between humans and other animals. Just as in "Deer Hunting," animals, in this
case a herd of misbehaving buffalos, are called "brothers." Sympathy for and identification with the nonhuman
world is at the center of Hobson's sensibility as a poet.
Hobson's essay "The Literature of Indian Oklahoma: A Brief History" was published in World Literature Today
in 1990. Hobson's essay presents a scholarly and exhaustive history of all writing done by Native Americans
whose nations have direct ties to present-day Oklahoma. In this survey, Hobson begins a chronicle of Oklahoma
Native American literature but comes immediately against a stumbling block: as a result of the Trail of Tears--
the forced relocation perpetrated by Andrew Jackson during the 1830s of many thousands of Native Americans
from the Southeast--the idea that there can be an Oklahoma literature separate and distinct from the literature
of the entire Southeast becomes problematic.
Although Hobson has not written the final chapter of his literary career, his philosophy and approach to poetry
and fiction, defined here in his introduction to The Remembered Earth, show no signs of changing:
Heritage is people. People are the earth. Earth is heritage. In remembering these relationships--to the people,
the past, the land--we renew in strength our continuance as a people. Literature, in all its forms, is our most
durable way of carrying on this continuance. By making literature, like the singers and storytellers of earlier
times, we serve the people as well as ourselves in an abiding sense of remembrance.
We must never forget these relationships. Our land is our strength, and our people the land--one and the same--
as it always has been and always will be.
Niatim, D. Harper's Anthology of Twentieth Century Native American Poetry. 1998.
Trout, L. Native American Literature: An Anthology. 1998.