“One time I saw this woman drive her car right over the back of a beautiful long blacksnake,” recalls local Native American writer MariJo Moore. “And blacksnakes are good snakes; they protect us from poisonous snakes. Then she backed up and drove over it again, and roared away. The snake lay there in the street bleeding, and then slowly began to move and crawl away. It spoke to me and said, ‘You are like me and you too will survive.'”
Moore, who was chosen as Publisher of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, understands survival from many perspectives.
“I consider myself as a woman first, then Indian, then writer. Writing is what I do, not who I am. Who I am is the sum total of all my experiences, and my responsibility as a writer is to share what I have learned from these experiences in hopes that others can relate.”
Moore is the author of a dozen books, which run the gamut from children’s folk tales to poems about racism, violence, madness and the need to heal.
“I began rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING because I wanted to publish my writings without having a non-Indian editor cut them to pieces. Sometimes, the truth is hard for people to take, but I pride myself on writing the truth,” she reveals.
Even Moore’s fictional stories, some of which are based on her own life, contain truth concerning modern-day American Indians. “Some people have told me that the stories disturb them; not all have happy endings,” she explains. “I always reply that life doesn’t usually offer us happy endings, just opportunities to grow or remain stagnant.”
Her latest book, Red Woman with Backward Eyes, has been well-received by American Indians and non-Indians as well. It’s being used at Redlands Community College in El Reno, OK, with Cheyenne and Arapaho students and also in literature courses at UNC Chapel Hill.
“I hope within the next two to three years to be able to publish writings by other North Carolina American Indians,” says Moore, who was asked in 1998 by the N.C. Humanities Council to gather writings from Indians within the state. The anthology, Feeding The Ancient Fires: A Collection of Writings by NC American Indians is now in its second printing and is being used in college classrooms throughout the country.
“I’m presently working with Dr. Will Goins, an Eastern Cherokee, on a comparable book featuring the writings of South Carolina American Indians,” she notes. “This book, sponsored by the South Carolina Humanities Council, will probably be available by the end of this year.”
And she’s co-authored another book — this one about the late son of musician Willie Nelson.
“While I was living in Nashville during the late ’80s and early ’90s, a Lakota Sioux friend of mine was best friends with Willie Nelson Jr., who was known as Billy,” she remembers. “When Billy committed suicide, Ben came to me and asked me to write the story. Billy’s mother was Western Band Cherokee, and Ben and he became friends — not only because of their Indianness, but because both were in recovery from drug/alcohol addiction. I felt, and still do feel, that it is a story that needs to be told. The manuscript has been finished for over 10 years now, and so the time has come to consider publication.”
With several writing projects on her plate, she still struggles to make it as an independent publisher, lecturer and workshop presenter.
“I never expected to get rich by writing, but I sure wanted to be able to buy a black Mercedes,” she admits. “But the real reward for me is if someone expresses an interest in my work. Right now, I’m happy if I can keep my dogs fed and have something left over for myself.”
She tells the story of another writer who said that when an editor got finished with his work, he didn’t even recognize it. “Why let someone do that to your creativity and truth? One reason is money, and to me that just seems like selling out.”
Moore utilizes small, independently owned bookstores as well as corporate chain stores to market her books, but doesn’t see that as a conflict of interest. “I have to do what I have to do to make a living as an independent publisher and writer,” she declares. “However, my way of not selling out is that I don’t let others, like editors and publishers, make lies out of what I deem to be the truth in my writings. Literature is a great leveler. There are things I may not like, and I can voice my opinion through my writings. Be true to your heart and listen to the god of your understanding. You have to live with yourself, regardless of what choices are made.”
Moore, who believes that all writing is political in some sense, is fairly confident that she could write successfully in genres other than American Indian literature, but says that her heart and spirit would not be satisfied.
“Today, after five centuries of Eurocentrism, most people have no idea which American Indian tribes still exist and which have been totally obliterated. Nor are they sure what traditions belong to what tribes. Over the years, the public has been inundated with various presentations of Indian stereotyping, thanks to movies and literature depicting Indigenous Peoples as spiritual gurus, Pagan savages, Indian princesses, or pitiful burdens of society — all this always with a mishmash of tribal cultures and traditions.
“Fortunately, over the past decade, there has been a rising interest in the accurate depiction of Native cultures, histories, and truths. I suppose my duty as an Indian writer is to let others know we are no different really in our needs, desires, struggles, accomplishments and disappointments.”
And in communicating those feelings, Moore insists upon honesty. “The reason the world is so strange and scary for some is because so many of those who are ‘in charge’ have hidden the truth,” she says. “I always think of Bob Dylan’s line from ‘Jokerman’: ‘Freedom is just around the corner for you, but with truth so far off, what good will it do.’ Eventually, however, truth always rises. It is just a matter of time.”