Ray A. Young Bear


Ray A. Young Bear, Meskwaki (People of the Red Earth), was born in 1950 in Marshalltown, IA and raised on the Meskwaki Tribal Settlement near Tama, IA, where he lives today with his wife, Stella and his nephew, Jesse. His great-great grandfather, Maminwanike, as a Sacred Chieftan or Okima, purchased the settlement land in 1856, on ancestral lands along the Iowa River. This was done after the federal government forced the tribe to remove to Kansas. This tribally-owned land is not a "reservation." Ray and Stella are co-founders of a cultural performance group, Black Eagle Child, that has toured the Midwest and The Netherlands. Ray often begins his readings with Meskwaki songs, accompanied by a hand drum and English translations.

Ray's first language is Meskwaki. He began seriously writing in English when in his early teens. He first wrote by thinking in Meskwaki and then translating into English. While he no longer does this, he still writes in the heightened, formal style of Meskwaki oratory. He does not write to reveal or to conceal, but to correct the errors of misrepresentation that have occurred over generations. Although his poetry was first published in 1968, he was introduced formally as a tribal contributor in the South Dakota Review American Indian II by John Milton. In addition, Robert Bly, a Minnesota poet, in the role of mentor recommended him to various literary magazines.

Ray attended Pomona College between 1969 and 1971. (In 1971 he met James Welch and Duane Niatum at a conference which had been organized by Milton at the University of South Dakota.) He has also attended the University of Iowa, Grinnell College, Northern Iowa University and Iowa State University. Ray has since taught creative writing and Native American literature at The Institute of American Indian Art (1984), Eastern Washington University (1987), Meskwaki Indian Elementary School (1988-89), the University of Iowa (1989) and at Iowa State University (1993 and 1998).

Ray's book covers show his wife, Stella's, elaborate bandolier-style beadwork. He uses the pronoun, we, in discussing his work. His poems are not written as an extension of his individual ego. They are collages of many voices, both interior and exterior. This polyvocality is an expression of his view of human insignificance in the universe, sharing the universe with all other beings.

Ray's writing has been published in journals such as the American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Parnassus, Ploughshares, Solo, Virginia Quarterly Review and Witness.

For readings/performances and media interviews, Ray may be contacted though his agent:

Carlisle & Company
Attn: Christy Fletcher
24 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: 212-813-9567

For literature-related permissions and general correspondence, Ray can be contacted at:

202 Red Earth Drive
Tama, Iowa 52339
Fax: 641-484-6168

The Word Collector, from the Des Moines Register, Sept. 2001.

What it Means to be a Meskwaki, a 1994 interview with Ray Young Bear.

Ray Young Bear entry on the Modern American Poetry website.

A short biography from the Internet Public Library's Native American Author's Project is available.

Writing available online

A Season of Provocations and Other Ethnic Dreams
Afterword to Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives
The Mask of Four Indistinguishable Thunderstorms
Our Bird Aegis


Ray A. Young Bear has received a creative writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976. He has also received an honorary doctorate in letters from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa in 1993 and the Ruth Suckow (Soo-koe) Award for Remnants of the First Earth as an outstanding work of fiction about Iowa in 1997.

Books by Ray A. Young Bear or containing his work

Poetry       icon

Rock Island Hiking Club
The Rock Island Hiking Club, University of Iowa Press.
The Invisible Musician : Poems, Holy Cow Press.
Review by Janet McAdams from The American Indian Quarterly
Winter of the Salamander : The Keeper of Importance, HarperCollins .
Waiting to be Fed, 1975, Greywolf Press.

Prose       icon

The Tribal Chair Shall Conduct All Meetings, Grove/Atlantic.
Remnants of the First Earth, Grove/Atlantic. (Hardcover)
Book Review by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn in Indian Country Today Magazine
Book review in the New York Times by Richard E. Nicholls
Black Eagle Child : The Facepaint Narratives, Grove/Atlantic. (Hardcover)


The Woodland Singers: Traditional Mesquakie Songs,
Canyon Records, 1987.

Anthologies Containing Ray's Work       icon

Uncommon Wealth : An Anthology of Poetry in English,
Neil Besner, Deborah Schnitzer, Alden Turner (Editors), Oxford Univ Press.
The Best American Poetry 1996, Adrienne Rich, David Lehman (Editors),
Touchstone Books. (Hardcover)
Against Forgetting : Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness
Carolyn Forche (Editor), W.W. Norton & Company.
New Worlds of Literature : Writings from America's Many Cultures
Jerome Beaty, J. Paul Hunter (Editors), W.W. Norton & Company.
Columbus & Beyond : Views from Native Americans,
Southwest Parks & Monuments.
The Remembered Earth : An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature
by Geary Hobson (Editor), Univ of New Mexico Press
Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry
by Duane Niatum (Editor) HarperCollins
Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back : An Anthology of Poetry by American Indian Writers
by Joseph Bruchac (Editor), Greenfield Review Press
Words in the Blood : Contemporary Indian Writers of North and South America,
Jamake Highwater (Editor), New American Library.
Voices of the Rainbow : Contemporary Poetry by Native Americans
Kenneth Rosen (Editor), R.C. Gorman, Aaron Yava (Illustrator), Arcade Pub.
Come To Power, Dick Lourie (Editor), Crossing Press.

Books Containing Interviews with Ray or Essays on His Work   

Native American Writers of the United States, (Dictionary of Literary Biography, V. 175),
Kenneth M. Roemer (Editor), Gale Research.
Beyond Bounds : Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, & Chicano Literature
Robert Franklin Gish, Univ of New Mexico Press.
New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism,
Arnold Krupat (Editor), Smithsonian Inst Press.
Coyote was here : essays on contemporary Native American literary and political mobilization
Bo Scholer (Editor), Aarhus, Denmark : Seklos.
Survival This Way : Interviews With American Indian Poets
Joseph Bruchac III (Editor), (Sun Tracks Books, No 15) University of Arizona Press
We, I, "Voice," and Voices: Reading Contemporary Native American Poetry,
Janet McAdams, Studies in American Indian Literatures, 7(3), 7-16. Fall 1995.
Ray A. Young Bear: Tribal History & Personal Vision, Gretchen M. Bataille
Studies in American Indian Literatures, 5, 17-20, Summer 1993.
The Reality of Dreamtime in Some Contemporary Native American Poetry, Anne Bromley,
Greenfield Review, 11 (3 & 4), Winter/Spring 1984.
Memory and Dream in the Poetry of Ray A. Young Bear, Robert F. Gish,
Minority Voices, 2, 21-29, 1978.
Mesquakie Singer: Listening to Ray A. Young Bear, Robert F. Gish,
A: A Journal of Contemporary Literature, 4, 24-28, 1979.
On First Reading Young Bear's Winter of the Salamander, Robert F. Gish,
Studies in American Indian Literatures, 6, 10-15, 1982.
Introduction, Richard Hugo,
American Poetry Review, 2, 22, 1973.
To Be There, No Authority to Anything: Ontological Desire & Cultural and Poetic Authority in the Poetry of Ray A. Young Bear, Robert Dale Parker,
Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture and Theory, 50, 89-115, 1994.
Outside the Arc of the poem: A Review of Ray Young Bear's Winter of the Salamander,
James Ruppert, Studies in American Indian Literatures, , 6-10, Summer 1982.
Studies in American Indian Literatures Special Issue,
6, #3, 1982.
I Tell You Now : Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers
by Brian Swann, Arnold Krupat, Brompton Books Corp.

Text Books

Approaching Poetry: Perspectives and Responses, Peter Schakel and Jack Ridl
St. Martin's Press.

In Association with Amazon.com

This is an "official" site in that this page was constructed with the assistance and active collaboration of the poet, Ray A. Young Bear.

© 1998 - 2006 Ray A. Young Bear.

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