Joseph Bruchac By: Amanda Burleson
The Early Years • Joseph Bruchac was born October 16, 1942 in Saratoga Springs, New York. • Joseph’s father was of Slovak decent and his mother was of Native American decent. • Joseph Bruchac grew up at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. • Joseph was raised by his maternal grandparents. “Though my parents’ home was less than a half mile away, . . . I never spent a night under their roof.”
Joseph’s grandparents owned Bowman’s Store, a small gas station and general store, where he spent much of his childhood. “Bowman’s store was a place where small seeds of love and trust, of belief and sharing, were planted. . . “ • Jesse Bowman (Obomdsawin), Joseph’s grandfather was of Abenaki Indian and French ancestry. Joseph’s grandfather never admitted his Abenaki ancestry and would identify himself as French when asked. • Joseph’s grandfather talked about Indians when he was in his garden, though many of his practices were traditionally Native American.
Thoughts on Multiculturalism • Joseph Bruchac’s early years laid the foundation for his future as a Native American writer. • “For Native American peoples of North America multiculturalism simply means people. Not some people: all people Wli dogo wongan is how we say it in Abenaki, . . . a phrase that might simply be translated as good relatives meaning all our relations in a figurative sense.” • “My firm belief, is that when perceived properly , when presented and used with sensitivity and balance, ideas of multiculturalism can empower all of our children.”
Becoming a Writer • Joseph Bruchac’s early years laid the foundation for his future as a writer. • He claims that his writing career began by listening. As a small child around the store where people were always coming and going he was able to listen to many stories. • “Being a listener lead me to reading.” • Though Joseph’s grandfather could not read or write, his grandmother was educated and had many books that young Joseph had access to. She would also drive him to the library to get new books. • “Being a reader lead me to writing. I began writing poems in the second grade and I’ve never stopped.”
The Circle When Joseph was in his early twenties, a mentor introduced him to a circle divided into four sections. This introduction impacted his writing greatly. “The first part of the Circle represents the dawn and the first step to learning, which is to listen. The second part of the Circle stands for morning, which is to observe. The third part of the Circle is the afternoon and it reminds us to remember. The fourth part of the Circle represents the sunset and the final step to learning, which is to share.”
Fatherhood • Joseph had two sons and he decided that he wanted his children to learn about their Indian heritage. • He told them stories and when he ran out of stories to tell he traveled to seek out Native elders. • “I listened. I read books. I researched. And I learned. Being a father made me a storyteller.”
Education and Experience • Joseph has a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.A. in Literature and Creative Writing from Syracuse and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the Union Institute of Ohio. • His work as a educator includes three years at Keta Secondary School in Ghana. He spent eight years at Skidmore College where he taught Creative Writing and African American Literature. He also taught at Green Meadows Intitute, a maximum security prison. With his wife, Carol, he is the founder and Co-Director of the Greenfield Review Literary Center and The Greenfield Review Press.
Children’s Literature • One of the first children’s books that Mr. Bruchac ever had published was Turkey Brother and Other Iroquois Stories. This was a compilation of stories that he had told his sons. • Joseph Bruchac is an extremely diverse writing repertoire. He has written biographies, autobiographies, teacher’s resources, picture books, informational books, folktales, plays, poetry. All of his writings have undertones of Bruchac’s Native American Heritage.
The Circle Continues • Joseph, his younger sister Margaret, and his two grown sons, James and Jesse, continue to work extensively on projects involving the preservation of Abenaki culture and oral tradition, language and traditional Native skills, through storytelling, performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki. • “A story is a way both of seeing the world and experiencing the world. When you hear a story, you can find yourself in that story. That story is the result of the things that people have seen and heard and understood, often for many generations before you.”