South Dakota adds book by LO author to statewide reading program
"Books are like children," said Lake Oswego author Kent Nerburn. "You never know which will do well."
The father of four children and author of 14 books on spiritual values and Native American themes, Nerburn should rest easy as it appears the children and books are doing just fine.
He is a two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award. His most well-known book, "Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder," won the Minnesota Book Award and was made into a feature film in 2016. Coinciding with the release of its 25th anniversary edition, "Neither Wolf Nor Dog" has been selected as the title for the One Book South Dakota 2019.
"I am humbled to have my unique literary child, 'Neither Wolf nor Dog,' chosen as the One Book South Dakota selection for 2019," Nerburn said.
Started in 2003, One Book South Dakota is a statewide reading program organized by the South Dakota Humanities Council, a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to provide humanities programs for South Dakotans, as part of the South Dakota Festival of Books. Over the course of its 16-year history the program has featured the works of fiction authors Jane Smiley, Louise Erdrich, William Kent Krueger, Tim O'Brien, children's authors Gene Luen Yang and Kate DiCamillo and others. As well as writing in various genres such as nonfiction, fiction, young adult and more, Festival of Books authors explore
various humanities disciplines including history, language, literature and much more.
Nerburn is excited that the entire state's citizenship will be reading and discussing his book, which is told from a multicultural perspective.
"In 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' I tell the story of three men — two Native and one non-Native — as we journey through a world too often hidden and too little understood, and struggle to see the world through each other's eyes," Nerburn said. "I hope readers who share this journey will learn something of our complex and difficult intertwined histories and reflect on what it means to go forward as common children of this common land."
Born and raised near Minneapolis, Nerburn earned a bachelor's degree summa cum laude at the University of Minnesota in American studies. He went on to study humanities and religious studies at Stanford University before earning a doctorate in religious studies and art in a joint program between Graduate Theological Union and the University of California at Berkeley.
Originally a sculptor, Nerburn became a writer to reach broader audiences with his work.
"For several years I worked on the Red Lake Ojibwe reservation helping students collect the memories of the tribal elders," he said. "This changed my life and introduced me to the native spiritual traditions that have become so central to the message in my writings."
He said a Native elder once counseled him to "always teach by story, because stories lodge deep in the heart."
"Neither Wolf Nor Dog" began as an oral history project, and Nerburn said he knew he had to exactly present the Native point of view.
"That was the litmus test," he said. "The book speaks to the truth of the Native experience."
Nerburn has been referred to as "one of the few writers who can respectfully bridge the gap between Native and non-Native cultures."
"This is one of those rare works that once you've read it, you can never look at the world, or at people, in the same way," wrote the American Indian College Fund of "Neither Wolf Nor Dog."
The book caught the attention of rock musician Robert Plant while on tour in Denver several years ago. He was so moved by the book he reached out to the publisher to connect with Nerburn. Following a phone conversation Plant flew to South Dakota where Nerburn was presenting the book. The two have been friends ever since. Plant connected Nerburn with a publisher in England.
"Two years ago Robert Plant and I discussed the book onstage at the Hay Literary Festival in Hay on Wye, Wales," Nerburn said.
Plant wrote a poem for the foreword of the 25th anniversary edition of "Neither Wolf Nor Dog."
"In June I will be traveling all across the state (South Dakota) for two weeks, speaking and giving readings," Nerburn said. "This will culminate in my being the featured speaker at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood in early October. I will also be visiting and speaking at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, which has chosen 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' as their Common Read selection for their freshman honors program."
Nerburn will also speak on the book at the Jaipur Literary Festival in Boulder, Colorado, and with the parent Jaipur Literary Festival in Jaipur, India.
"The native experience has always been a sidebar, you can't get rid of it," Nerburn said. "It's my goal to get people to read the book, get those not interested in reading it to read it."
"Neither Wolf Nor Dog" is the first of a trilogy, followed by "The Wolf at Twilight" and "The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo." He considers these books his "most meaningful accomplishment."
"This is my calling, bringing Natives and non-Natives together," he said. "If life is a string of pearls this book is the centerpiece."
To learn more about Nerburn and his writing and to order his books visit kentnerburn.com.
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