David Treuer Talks Identity, Diversity in Writing

On Mar. 1, David Treuer came to Scripps College's Hampton Room as a speaker in the Tuesday Noon Academy series. This Malott Commons series is a weekly, one-hour lecture series, with all events free and open to the public. 

Treuer has gained much recognition as both a writer and professor. In 2011, he was the Mary Routt Chair of Writing at Scripps, a position that brings in nationally recognized writers to campus in the spring to teach a semester-long course of their specialty.  He currently teaches at the University of Southern California. He returned to Scripps to discuss his latest novel, Prudence, with Scripps Writing Program Director Kimberly Drake.

Treuer is from the Ojibwe community and grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, eventually going on to Princeton University, where he studied anthropology and creative writing. Treuer has studied under famous authors such as Joanna Scott, Paul Muldoon, and Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.

His latest novel focuses on an illicit love affair during World War II-era America. It touches on issues of identity, race, gender, and sexual orientation, and is described by The New York Times as “Deeply crafty, shape-shifting. . . . [Treuer] seems to want to do for Native American culture and literature what James Joyce did for the Irish: haul it into the mainstream of Western culture through sheer nerve and verve.” Treuer is also the author of the novels Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life and Little, which he published at age 24.

Many students who attended were aspiring writers looking for new ways of expressing their voice and identity. Creative writing major Bridgette Ramirez SC ’17 works for Scripps Public Events, which sponsors the Tuesday Noon Academy series. She mentioned that Treuer highlighted an important problem: at its current state, the popular literary canon in America has a huge issue in the diversity of stories that are given attention.

“As a writer of Mexican descent, I was really interested in what Treuer said about how a Native American woman only gets a couple of sentences, while Ernest Hemingway gets a whole biography,” she said. “I like him giving more of a voice to characters who have historically been overlooked, making them human. I wish I could have taken him as a professor when he was the Mary Routt chair. He seems pretty awesome.”

Professor Treuer delved further into discussing how writing truly changes people. He said, “The game is not merely writing the story; the game is changing how people think.” Through his writing, he hopes to take his main character and “make him a human being … show his naked desire, his wants, and his inability to have what he wants.” 

Cindy Zhu SC ’19 said, “It stood out to me that the writing process is more about changing how the reader thinks instead of what the reader thinks.”

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