Author Kelli Donley on the Arizona Indian Schools

Recently, I read a suspenseful and engaging novel that gives context to a controversial piece of Arizona history: Counting Coup by Kelli Donley. I had met Kelli at the Phoenix MEET YOUR LITERARY COMMUNITY event in early October. I wrote about it here. My booth was right next to Kelli’s, and as we sat and chatted, I looked over her three novels. They all appealed to me, but Counting Coup is her most recent–and the first sentence grabbed my attention, as did the subject of the “Indian schools” in Arizona.

I asked Kelli to write a guest post about the Indian schools. If you are intrigued by the subject, you will want to rush to purchase a copy of Counting Coup. (If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it, too!)

MEET KELLI DONLEY, AUTHOR OF COUNTING COUP

I grew up in a suburban ranch-style home in the middle of Mesa, Arizona, just off of Alma School Road. The neighborhood was like so many others. We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, a swimming pool in the backyard, and a series of colorful goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter. My bookshelves were marigold, lined with precious Nancy Drews my mother had collected before I was born. My brother and I would fight over the remote on hot summer days, arguing over “I love Lucy” or “Brady Bunch” episodes. When my mother was at the point of putting us on the curb in a box marked “free,” the calendar would switch to September and we would be shuffled down the street to school.

We were Astros, attending Alma Elementary. It never occurred to me to ask any questions about Alma School Road, even though our school had a different address. But when we’d go to Phoenix to visit my grandmother in her tiny, smoky apartment, we’d drive down Indian School Road. Indian School? I saw neither Indians nor schools from the backseat of my mother’s Chevy Citation.

I remember asking my mother and receiving a brief, vague answer that brought forth images of the trailer park-ridden, dry desert reservation we’d see from the highway when traveling to Tucson to visit our other grandparents.

Indian schools were where Indian children went to school.

“But, Mom,” I persisted, smelling a mystery, “Mom, we have Indian kids at our school. Wayne is in my class. His brothers are older. You know them!”

“Oh, well those kids live in our neighborhood. Of course they attend your school.” And then she did that little toss of her hand that meant, “Don’t bother me. We’re done with this topic.”

Was the Indian school like the one I attended, with chalkboards and globes and a music room where the recorders always reeked of Pine Sol? My questions went unanswered.

Some 25 years passed. I went to college, traveled, joined the Peace Corps, wrote a couple novels, and to everyone’s surprise, married a man in my hometown. I’d found my professional passion working in public health, and loved being a wife and stepmom in Mesa.

One cold December day, I was invited by two colleagues to visit their recent project at the Phoenix Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. They’d been awarded a grant to restore one of the remaining buildings at what was once the Phoenix Indian School. They explained the school was opened in the 1890s, and at its biggest, was hundreds of acres of farmland that students were expected to tend. The school closed in the 1990s, and the land was purchased by the City of Phoenix from the federal government. Too quickly, city officials bulldozed buildings, dug lakes, and created the modern-day park—all with very little input from the local American Indian community. Three buildings were saved from destruction.

We stood in front of one of them.

I followed the women into an adobe building so old the window panes were wavy from time. Cobwebs kept aging beams above woven together. Missing floor planks made navigating the long narrow walkway a game of hopscotch. Two steps into the doorway, taking in one long look of the now empty rooms, goosebumps rose on my arms and my stomach began to ache. I turned on my heel, retreating outside.

They followed, confused.

“What happened in there,” I asked rubbing my arms and trying to calm my breath.

“What do you mean?” one of the women asked.

“Something terrible happened in that room,” I blurted, feeling my cheeks turn red from unexpected emotion. I felt crazy, but only momentarily.

The women’s heads nodded. We sat together in a clump on the concrete stairs leading into the adobe music room. It was here, sitting next to them, I would learn that for more than 100 years, American Indian children were placed at boarding schools, and not just in Arizona, but across the United States, Canada, and Australia. The initial motivation was to break Indian culture and create new Christians. “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” was a commonly repeated refrain.

It is a complicated history, but eventually, children were no longer taken against their will to attend the schools. Instead, many attended in later years because there was no other option on their tribal lands.

One of the women shared a story about how her grandmother, from a northern Arizona tribe, had been kidnapped at age 5 by federal employees and brought to the school. She hadn’t been able to return until she graduated at age 18. By then, she no longer spoke the language of her parents. This would forever impair her ability to connect with family, tradition, and culture.

The same colleague went on to then tell me how her parents divorced when she was in junior high. Her mother struggled. She sent her two older daughters to the Phoenix Indian School until she could care for them herself. They spent two years together at the school.

I had a thousand questions. First, how could I have spent more than 30 years in Phoenix and never known about the school? This history wasn’t included in our education, or field trips. It wasn’t on any test. There was no day of honor or remembrance. In the shade of a date palm, I looked up at the haunted adobe music room, and realized the park was sacred earth. Children died here, their bones buried under the grassy lawn of today.

This chance meeting planted the seed for my latest novel, Counting Coup. This is the story of Avery Wainwright, a professor who uncovers a stack of 60-year-old letters. Written in the 1950s,

the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one had ever spoken of.

Today, the American Indian boarding school system remains, albeit voluntary. Health outcomes for American Indian children in the United States remain among the worse. These boarding schools allow children to graduate, but still keep student at a fragile age away from their families and home.

I have a thousand more questions to ask, and many more stories to write about my homeland. Thank you for reading!

For more information about Counting Coup and my other novels, visit: kellidonley.com.

Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan. She is the author of three novels, Under the Same MoonBasket Baby and Counting Coup. Inspiration for this novel was found hearing colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. Kelli lives with her husband Jason, children and small ark of animals in Mesa, Arizona. She works in public health, and blogs at www.africankelli.com.

Thank you for visiting, Kelli!

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Reading

When the Family Home Burned Down, 1902

I’m so jazzed to have an article about the aftermath of the fire at my relatives’ home in 1902 up at the wonderful creative nonfiction magazine, Broad Street! It’s week 4 of the 6 week series. This is the only piece featured that is flash nonfiction, rather than poetry, although I am hoping you can find some “poetry” in it.

The Family Kalamazoo

The horrific fires in California have been in the news over the past week. My heart breaks for the people who died, those who lost their homes, and the animals that perished as well. Fire has long been a blessing and a devastation for humankind. Today’s post is about a fire that burned down the home of my great-great-grandmother’s brother and his family.

The last three weeks I’ve shared articles published by Broad Street magazine. They are featuring a series showcasing what went into the making of six poems and flash prose pieces in my chapbook Kin Types. The idea is that you can see how you, too, can put together stories of your ancestors.

Today the fourth part of the series was published and can be found here: Family Laundry: “The Weight of Smoke” by Luanne Castle

The first feature article is “Family Laundry: “An Account of…

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Eastern Tennessee and Me

I promised Tennessee, so here it is. Years ago, my parents gave us a membership to a sort of timeshare thingie. This year, to use our points, we decided we wanted to see the Smoky Mountains. To reserve a week during fall color season, we had to decide last January. Although we chose by what we read online, our stay got bumped back a week, color was late this year, and we ended up before the color had really begun to change. ALTHOUGH. The gardener kept pointing out “color” whenever he saw the faintest hint of rust or red in a sea of green. Very annoying.

I didn’t feel well, so that probably made me crabby.

My left foot had developed plantar fasciitis and hurt, that caused my back to go “out” and that hurt, and my reflux was in an uproar. After a trip to Walgreens, I was set to explore.

Unfortunately, an area we thought would be rustic and relaxing turned out to be the cheesiest tourist trap in the country: Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg. CHEESY.

Fake Alcatraz might have been the most educational place there (from the outside at least). We couldn’t find anything worth doing, didn’t want to do the crowds at Dollywood, and there was no place to eat gluten free food in that gluten-crazy, kid-friendly zoo. (Although we did end up going to one place in Pigeon Forge–I write about further down).

Fortunately, our timeshare was a lovely condo in a beautiful complex, and we ate almost all our meals there and packed cooler lunches to take with us. What a blessing.

View from our condo pool.

We ended up traveling to Ashville, NC, and the Biltmore (largest private home in the country); Knoxville with its history and art museum; Cumberland Falls in Kentucky; and towards Chattanooga, although we didn’t make it that far because we took country roads and explored.

Biltmore

Art that intrigued me in Knoxville

The second painting is from a large collection the museum owns by Joseph Delaney, an African-American artist from Tennessee. He studied at the Art Students’ League in NYC a little before my MIL, and I can see a similarity in their styles. This painting, in fact, is of the lobby of the Art Students’ League.

Cumberland Falls

Two touristy places we went to turned out great. We chose well. One was Parrot Mountain and Gardens in Pigeon Forge. The collection of colorful exotic birds is extraordinary. They also give homes to pet birds that find themselves homeless–and you can find a pet there, too. Although I don’t usually like zoos, this place does seem to do a really good job providing well for birds that could not live independently in the United States.

The other thing we did that is very touristy was a boat ride on an underground lake (in a cave). Called the Lost Sea, it’s located in Sweetwater, TN.

I do think Dollywood “ruined” the general vicinity. The traffic and all the cheesy establishments were such a disappointment. It probably brought jobs to people, and if so, that is good. But ugh. I would never return to that specific area. Luckily, we had a decent time with all our side excursions.

The only thing that was a real dark side for me was something that I’m sure I’ve seen elsewhere, but hadn’t really paid attention to. I had just finished a Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie mystery on the plane ride to TN. Those books take place in Virginia, and there was mention of kudzu and the destruction it wreaks. So when we arrived at our destination in Pigeon Forge, I couldn’t help but notice the Little Shop of Horrors monstrosities growing all around me. The large-leafed plant that spreads over everything: ground, bushes, trees, cars, old buildings, you name it. I felt as if I had fallen into Poison Ivy’s Garden of Hell.

I tried and tried to take good pix from the car, but it was impossible–and where I saw it was generally from the car.

 You have to look carefully, but in the photo just above, you can see beyond the first line of trees to the massive section covered with the creepy stuff. It’s actually a pretty plant, so while I was gazing from the parking lot at this view, a woman said to me, “Pretty, isn’t it?” Direct me said, “It makes me feel as if I’m in a nightmare. It creeps me out.” Then she agreed with me. Here is a great link to learn how kudzu got to our country and how dangerous it is (and how stupid people are): HISTORY OF KUDZU IN THE U.S.

On a positive note, we saw deer and lots of cows and sheep, but it was the woodchucks that stole my heart. As we drove on rural roads, woodchucks would be in the woods just off the shoulder of the road. They traveled in pairs or singly, and they were cute. WOODCHUCKS I doubt any of my pix turned out as our meetings were sudden and brief, but follow that link and you can see what we saw.

OK, that, in a nutshell, was our visit to eastern Tennessee.

Most of my writing lately has been working on finalizing the Broad Street magazine articles and writing reviews. There have been a lot of family activities lately, and now the holidays loom ahead. #wishIwerewritingmore My first review is out in the fall issue of Main Street Rag. I reviewed J. R. Solonche’s Invisible, a full-length collection of poetry.

Make it a great week, peeps!

 

 

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Filed under #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Sightseeing & Travel, travel

Third Broad Street Magazine Article on Family History Literature

The poem this week is about the brother of a relative through marriage as told by their dead mother. They grew up in an abusive orphanage, but the subject of the poem did not keep quiet about it!

The Family Kalamazoo

As I described the last two weeks, Broad Street Magazine is featuring six poems and flash prose pieces from my chapbook Kin Types, along with some of the research and research artifacts I used to create the pieces.

Today the third part of the series was published and can be found here: Family Laundry: “More Burials” by Luanne Castle

This poem was written about the Leeuwenhoek family, specifically a relative by marriage, and the perspective is that of his dead mother. Her children were orphaned and the four youngest went to live in an orphanage.

The photo below is of a boy in Nymegen or Nijmegen, which is the city near the Neerbosch orphanage where the Leeuwenhoek children lived. It is most likely that this is a photograph of Gerrit Leeuwenhoek, the subject of my poem.

The first feature article is “Family Laundry: “An Account of a Poor…

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How to Practice Your Poetry: Diane Lockward’s Latest Craft Book

Let’s pretend I haven’t gone to Tennessee yet, ok? Then when I finally blog about it, it will be very timely. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know something more important to you if you write poetry. And after I tell you about a new book for poets, I’ll tell you where I was at the end of last week 😉 so keep reading. Hint: fabulous hotel in Phoenix.

Diane Lockward has published her third wonderful craft book, The Practicing PoetClick on the following image to find the book at Amazon.

If you have read her earlier books, The Crafty Poet and The Crafty Poet II you already know how incredibly helpful Diane’s “portable workshops” are.  Although the new book is third in the series, you can start with any of the books. They all offer tips, prompts, and sample poems, based on the prompts. There is also a connection with the free newsletter that Diane publishes. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

I will tell you that one of the sample poems was contributed by moi. The prompt, which I first encountered in one of the newsletters, involved choosing a home you once lived in and returning to it after a long absence. I wrote about the house of my early childhood in “Finding the House on Trimble Street.” I wrote it in the form of a haibun (a prose poem that ends with a haiku), although the prompt had not asked for that form. This is one of my favorite parts of the poem: “Sometimes it was a tornado with its green sky, and sometimes it was a bomb with its puff of smoke and a white rabbit in the magician’s hat.”

I’ve loved Lockward’s first two craft books more than any other that I’ve used in the past, so I can’t wait to practice my poetry with this one.

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This past Thursday-Saturday was the NonfictioNOW conference that was held in Phoenix at the gorgeously reconstructed Renaissance Phoenix Hotel. My friend Kimberly is a cohort from the Stanford creative nonfiction program we were in, and we were able to spend time together. I also saw local friends at the conference, as well. Some good sessions, one not so interesting to me, and all in all a good experience. I want to give a lil shoutout to the Renaissance. They were positively amazing. They had plenty of smiling staff to help, from parking our cars, to helping us find our way, to serving breakfast and beverages and so on. I have never had a hotel experience with such attentive staff. Unlike the AWP in Tampa last March where I was parched and couldn’t get to water between sessions, water stations were set up and refilled frequently. If you are a nonfiction writer, this is a conference you might want to consider for 2019 or 2020. 2019 will be outside the U.S., but I believe 2020 will be back in a location here.

When entering the Renaissance . . .

A sitting area in the lobby

Upstairs

A massive ballroom light fixture

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Poetry, Writing, Writing prompt

Second Broad Street Magazine Article on Family History Literature

Week two up at Broad Street Magazine! So thrilled. How did I learn that my great-great-grandfather’s sister was an artist?

The Family Kalamazoo

As I described last week in Six-Week Family History Series at BROAD STREET MAGAZINE, six poems and flash prose pieces from my chapbook Kin Types are being featured at Broad Street Magazine, along with some of the research and research artifacts I used to create the pieces. The idea was first suggested by editor Susann Cokal. Fabulous idea!

Today the second part of the series was published and can be found here: Family Laundry 2: “What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties” by Luanne Castle

This article is about a poem I wrote about my great-great-grandfather’s sister, Jennie DeKorn Culver. If you recall from past blog posts, she is the woman who left Kalamazoo for Seattle with her two adult daughters, years after a contentious divorce from John Culver.

An introduction to the series can be found here.  SERIES INTRODUCTION

The first feature article is Family Laundry: “

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Poetry Consultations

I have plans for a couple of Tennessee posts, but this week got away from me. There has been a lot going on on the family home front.

The big news is that I started doing poetry consultations with two clients. I’ve been enjoying their work so much, as well as the analytical process that goes into critiquing and commenting on their poems.

I hope to get the particulars up on my website before too long. In the meantime, if you think you might be interested in getting feedback on your work, feel free to email me at luanne.castle@gmail.com for the details. I will work with beginners or seasoned poets.

To give an idea of my credentials for providing insight about your work, here is a brief bio. I have an MFA in poetry and fiction from Western Michigan University, a PhD in literature (analysis–specialty poetry) from the University of California, Riverside, and a certificate in creative nonfiction from Stanford University. I taught literature and writing for fifteen plus years at the university level and have published literary analyses and creative writing in journals and books for many years. I write poetry book reviews as a regular reviewer for Main Street Rag and other journals. I have two reviews forthcoming in MSR and one in Pleiades. My chapbook Kin Types (Finishing Line Press) was a finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Award.  My first poetry collection, Doll God, winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was published by Aldrich Press. Beyond credentials, my strengths are literary analysis and a technical understanding of poetry. Additionally, I understand that the poem is yours and not mine, and that what I offer are suggestions, not the “only way.” There are a wealth of ways a poet may choose to revise. When I think it makes sense, I will advise about poets or poems to read–or journals to try for submissions.

Make it a good week for you and for others. Here is my Facebook profile pic this week.

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Six-Week Family History & Poetry Series at BROAD STREET MAGAZINE — The Family Kalamazoo

The different ways that family history and genealogy intersect with other aspects of the culture is growing. But I think this project might be a first for family history. Broad Street Magazine, which publishes nonfiction narratives in a variety of genres, has begun a six-week series of feature articles on six poems from my family history […]

via Six-Week Family History & Poetry Series at BROAD STREET MAGAZINE — The Family Kalamazoo

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by | October 26, 2018 · 2:30 pm

Back Home

The gardener and I just got back from a trip to Tennessee. We came home Friday night, but our plane was three hours late because a dent in the fuselage meant they had to find us a new plane. Not fun being stuck in the Nashville airport with celiac boy. The restaurants were appalling for the gluten-challenged. He can’t drink alcohol when he’s flying either because of his damaged GI system. So I made up for it with two weak vodka sodas. I asked for two limes in each, but I think each drink ran past a lime.

The non-tedious thing about the trip home was that for the second half of the flight home I actually engaged in conversation with a seatmate. Yup, anti-social flyer me. I’ve only ever done that once before. I wrote about that one a few years ago. You might remember it. Still Photo. That time was a young girl. This time was an elderly gentleman who has an engaging personal history, coming from a family of southern Arizona settlers, and a medical history of 20 years of leukemia. His wife passed away a little over a year ago, and that is why I continued to “chat” with him. Speaking of this momentous event, I recently heard Phoenix writer Susan Pohlman read a piece she wrote on the subject of plane conversation. She Will Dance. It’s published in the beautiful journal The Sunlight Press. When the plane landed, the man I was sitting next to shook the gardener’s hand and thanked him for loaning me to him for the plane ride. Of course, he thanked me, too, and he seemed really grateful. Made me feel like a louse for ignoring him the first half of the trip.

Because of one job put off until afterward and three deadlines that appeared while I was gone, I had four writing projects to work on this weekend. I want to blog about Tennessee, but it will have to wait a bit.

Have you ever heard of the Plath Poetry Project? You can follow along (as you like) with the poems Sylvia Plath wrote in the last year of her life (approximately) and write poems inspired by hers. I did so and submitted it with a little prose piece about how it inspired me. It was published on their site last week. Find my poem ” Near” here and check out the project while you’re at it!

The fall/harvest (and sometimes Halloween) decorations were up all over Tennessee.

Make it a great week!

 

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Just Sayin’

When the ice maker repair person was leaving my house the other day, he said something that forced me to think about a writing problem I have. I didn’t bring that to his attention. Instead, I just laughed and responded with “You got that right!”

After discussing the repair to be made with this repair person, the gardener had waltzed off to the treadmill. Since I was pan frying dinner (ahead of time–my favorite time to cook), I was left overseeing the repair. My overseeing consisted of complaining to said repair person that the food was falling apart because it didn’t have any gluten in it. Anyway, when he was done, he shook my hand and said THIS.  Watch for my italics.

“Say goodbye to your husband for me. Tell him it was really fun talking to him. You probably hear that a lot. He’s quite a character!”

THAT. He’s quite a character. You probably don’t know he’s a character because I don’t make him much of a character in this blog. Or in my memoir-in-progress. I present him sort of flat and static–not multi-dimensional or dynamic.

Why is that?

Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s because he would overshadow the other characters (including me, of course).

I first realized this when I was around 150,000 words into my memoir (don’t panic–while I have about 400,000 by now, only 80,000 are currently in play). Because my father was quite a character, and my story is about my father and me, the gardener has to be a very two-dimensional confidant. According to yourdictionary.com, a confidant is described this way:

confidant

noun

  1. One to whom secrets or private matters are disclosed.
  2. A character in a drama or fiction, such as a trusted friend or servant, who serves as a device for revealing the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character.

And, truly, that is who the gardener actually is in my life, along with a whole lot of other things, such as best friend, lover, and most worthy antagonist. But he’s also a pain in the you-know-what to write about–unless, of course, I were to write about him. Putting him front and center. I am not prepared to do that. The thought of that project is beyond daunting.

In case you’re wondering if I am a wilted violet in the face of all that personality, never fear. The kids are waiting for our family reality TV show because they know it’s coming.

The following song is dedicated to the gardener.

 

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