James Welch - Native American Renaissance

James Welch Biography - Native American RenaissanceJames Welch (November 18, 1940 – August 4, 2003), who grew up within the Blackfeet and A'aninin cultures of his parents, was an award-winning Native American novelist and poet, considered a founding author of the Native American Renaissance. His novel Fools Crow (1986) received several national literary awards, and his debut novel Winter in the Blood (1974) was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2013. In 1997 Welch received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas. James Welch was born in Browning, Montana on November 18, 1940. His father, a welder and rancher, was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and his mother, Rosella O'Bryan, a stenographer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was a member of the Gros Ventre (A'aninin). Both also had Irish ancestry but had grown up within Native American cultures.

As a child, Welch attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations. In 1958, James Welch graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis. For college, Welch attended the University of Montana, where he studied under the poet Richard Hugo; he graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in liberal arts. Shortly after, Welch published his first poem in the "Montana poet" issue of Visions International in 1967. He began his writing career publishing poetry and fiction. His novels established his place in the Native American Renaissance literary movement. Welch also taught at the university. He also received Honorary Doctorates from Rocky Mountain College (1993) and the University of Montana (1997). James Welch was an internationally acclaimed writer and had a faithful following in Europe. In 1995, Welch was given the Chevalier of the Ordre des Artes et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters) by the French Cultural Ministry. He was fully knighted by the French Government for his contributions to French culture. His novels were translated into nine foreign languages. Welch's work was collected in anthologies of Native American literature.

James Welch Biography - Native American RenaissanceHe is one of the early authors of what became called the Native American literacy renaissance. He wanted to explore Native American life in his writing, both its good and bad aspects as people struggled with modern United States culture. He based his rich landscape imagery on lands he knew in Montana. In his writing, the landscape was featured as a character. Welch had a unique style of writing from "'an outside observer with an insider's understanding' of Native American experience." Although he was raised on the reservation as a young boy, he lived most of his life off of it. He said that he felt a lack of close connection with the tribal community. In 1968, James Welch married Lois Monk, a comparative literature professor at the University of Montana. She was head of the English Department there until her retirement. During her sabbaticals, they traveled internationally and lived in France, Greece, Italy, and Mexico. Welch often used these periods to help finish his novels, taking advantage of the relative isolation. The couple donated regularly to the Piegan Institute's language immersion program, dedicated to restoring use of the native Blackfeet language. Welch briefly attended Northern Montana College (now known as Montana State University-Northern).

He taught English and writing at the University of Washington and at Cornell University. In her introduction to the 2007 reprint of Winter in the Blood, fellow writer Louise Erdrich said: "It is a central and inspiring text to a generation of western regional and Native American writers, including me."[12] This novel was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2012 and produced by Sherman Alexie. In addition to his novels, Welch co-wrote with Paul Stekler the screenplay for Last Stand at Little Bighorn, the Emmy Award-winning documentary that was part of the American Experience, shown on PBS. Together they also wrote the history, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians (1994). Welch served on the Board of Directors of the D'Arcy McNickle Center of the public Newberry Library in Chicago. In addition to his literary work, Welch served as the Vice Chairman of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole for ten years. As a young man, he had worked as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, as a laborer, and as an Upward Bound counselor. Welch died at his home in Missoula, Montana in 2003, from a heart attack. He had been diagnosed ten months earlier with lung cancer.

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