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Interview: Joseph Bruchac on “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans”

Joseph BruchacTell us a bit about “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.”

THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS is one of a series of stories I’ve been writing that both attempt to upend some of the stereotypes about Native Americans within one of my favorite genres—that of fantasy and science fiction (if the two can be combined, as my favorite magazine implies in its title). For example, another of my stories published in an anthology a year ago is titled WIGWAMS OF THE GODS.

In each of those stories my characters are contemporary Native people who are intelligent, aware of majority culture, and also possessed of the sort of sense of humor that I’ve always experienced with virtually all of the Native elders who’ve been my friends and teachers over the decades. The relationship between my narrator and his best friend—who is a sort of trickster figure/genius always getting into trouble—is sort of the main theme here. Sort of.

Before going any further, let me point out that the Mohegan Nation (sorry, Coop) did not vanish in the 19th century and that, as my Mohegan friends have told me, the last of the Mohegans has yet to be born.

Such things as teleportation, mind-reading, and encounters with the little people appear in this story but are not my inventions. They are seen by many Native Americans as part of our various cultures.

 

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Well, to be honest, the title was stolen from a FAR SIDE cartoon. I gotta admit that whenever Gary Larson did anything in his cartoons involving Indians he both got it right and made a lot of us Native folks fall over laughing. I think my main inspiration for this story comes from my interest is telling stories that focus on American Indian life today, and not in some distant imagined past. I was also inspired by a picture book co-authored some years ago by Mohegan writer Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and myself called MAKIAWISUG, THE GIFT OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE.

 

Was “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Was this personal to me? Heck, yes. I guess I’ve already been answering that aspect of the story. Though my characters are fictitious they are based on real people who—though they may not be involved in the sort of amazing adventures as my characters—are just as brilliant, as complicated, and sometimes as unpredictable. Plus they are just as aware and connected to their Indian heritage.

 

Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story, or any of the traditions upon which it’s based?

In terms of research for this story, while I did not do any during the writing of it, I have been deeply immersed in Native American cultures—both my own Abenaki heritage and that of a number of other nations—for over half a century. I have a very extensive library of Native American books, especially those related to our histories and storytelling traditions. But even more than that, I’ve been visiting and listening—really listening—to so many Native elders and teachers over the years—such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon who was both an ethnologist and the Medicine Women and the Mohegan Nation—that I just may have absorbed a little knowledge along the way.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a rather long novel based on the three years I spent in the 60’s as a volunteer teacher in Ghana called SEA NEVER DRY. My main character, like me, finds himself seeing Africa differently than most Americans because of his Native American background. It’s based on fact, history, personal experience, but there’s also an element of fantasy to the story.

I’m also working on more stories chronicling the adventures of my friends in THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, be on the lookout for more sci-fi and fantasy from Native American authors. And let me recommend the recent collection of stories TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF by my Ojibway friend Drew Hayden Taylor.

 

“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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Clicking on Mr. Bruchac’s picture (photo credit Eric Jenks) will take you to his website: http://josephbruchac.com/

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