Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November 1, 2013

Amherst College Acquires Rare Native Book Collection
Condensed by Native Village

"It is the “most complete collection of Native American literature and history in existence.”
 Amherst College

Massachusetts: The Younghee Kim-Wait ’82 Pablo Eisenberg Collection has a new home in the Frost Library at Amherst College.  The collection honors Amherst alumna Younghee Kim-Wait, whose support helped bring the collection to Amherst.

The Eisenberg Collection includes items ranging from religious pamphlets to first-edition crime novels by Martin Cruz Smith.

“This collection is significant because it is a collection of works written by Native Americans,” said Bryn Geffert, Amherst College Librarian.  “It presents a unique opportunity for Native American Studies scholars here at Amherst and elsewhere to mine the most complete collection ever compiled by a single collector.”

The 32 boxes holding 1,500 volumes written from the 1700s - 21st century astounded the school's Native American Studies scholars who unpacked the boxes.

There are inscribed copies, association copies, and copies with notes that belonged to notable authors or scholars. All are first printings of first editions or first American editions unless otherwise noted. Many books in this collection would be the "best" copy available if sold on the open market.

Michael Kelly, Director of Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College,  says the collection has got it all -- even hundreds of items you won’t find at Harvard or Yale. In short, it is a virtually irreplaceable collection with great research value, and substantial historical value.

The Pablo Eisenberg collection is already being incorporated in the curriculum. Brooks plans on teaching a course focused on Native American literature and intellectual traditions.  Vigil is planning a seminar course called History of the Native Book.
The Pablo Eisenberg Collection of Native American Literature comprises nearly 1500 volumes written by American Indian writers, from the 1700s to the 21st century -- including myths and legends, tribal histories, religious tracts, biographies and memoirs, fiction, poetry, drama and historical and political writings. It includes nearly 600 volumes of nonfiction and almost 900 volumes of literary work.

87 books of nonfiction dating from 1772 - 1900 

Notable: A Son of The Forest by William Apes and published in 1829, has previously been identified the first Native American memoir,

13 books of fiction dating from 1900 or earlier:

Before N. Scott Momaday's 1968 book, House Made of Dawn, it was believed that only 9 novels by Native American writers had ever been published.

This Eisenberg collection has 13 written before 1900. Owens only saw nine prior to 1968.

One of the 13 is considered the first fiction published by a Native American writer. Wrritten in 1820, the pamphlet contains a fictionalized story of an Indian woman. It was written by a Christianized Indian as an inspirational religious tale.

The collection includes early and hard-to-find books Along with elusive books by a later generation of writers

The Early Writers include Mourning Dove, Zitkala Sa (Gertrude Bonnin), D'Arcy McNickle, Ella Deloria, Charles Eastman and Pauline Johnson. They date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Elusive Books include those by Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Gerald Vizenor, Maurice Kenny and Joy Harjo. These early works were usually self-published or published in small quantities by tiny presses.  Some are virtually impossible to obtain.

The collection expands the field of study. It includes works and authors not found in the standard bibliographies

This collection makes Amherst one of foremost destinations for research in this field.  Only a tiny handful of institutions have more extensive holdings in this area of American literature.

Native American literature expands the boundaries of American writing. It challenges the written  word to meet with oral history and storytelling traditions, where fact, legend, myth and history obey different rules than those of European literary tradition.

The collection is the written expression of American Indian history and cultural identity.

Kiara Vigil, left, and Lisa Brooks, get emotional over the collection.

   “Since the collection arrived, it is difficult to describe how it has  felt—like suddenly being amidst a seemingly infinite living sea, a literary and intellectual tradition that I have been studying and teaching, immersed in, my  whole life.

     “It is one thing to know it exists, to write about the authors, the networks between them, to teach them in classes, to once in a while, hold a first edition, signed by the author, in your hands. It is another to  experience that immersion, physically surrounded by these books—some of them hundreds of years old, in perfect condition—and to see that vast network all around you, to visibly see the connections between them, to hold one book after the other in your hands, the pages opening before you, inviting you to know, to understand more.”

Lisa Brooks, Amherst College
Associate Professor of English and American Studies
 Co-chair of the Five Colleges Native American Indian Studies Program

 “I was brought to tears upon finding an original handbook of the Constitutional by-laws for the National Council of American Indians, created and founded by Gertrude Bonnin in 1926. Bonnin’s life and writings are central to my first book on turn-of-the-20th-century Native intellectuals. As far as I know no other archival collection, including those that have Bonnin’s personal papers, have a copy of this particular document."

Kiara Vigil, Amherst College
Assistant Professor of American Studies

“The comprehensive nature of the collection is what makes it special.  We have the Native American authors you’ve heard of and for every Native American author you’ve heard of there are two dozen you haven’t heard of whose books we also now have.”
Michael Kelly, Amherst College
Director of Archives and Cpecial Collections

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