QME Interview

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Tim_Vaughan_Hedgecoke_shot-250x208Ms. Hedge Coke grew up in North Carolina, Canada, and
on the Great Plains.  She received her MFA in Creative
Writing at Vermont college, and has an AFA in Writing
from the Institute of American Indian Arts.  Ms. Hedge
Coke is of Cherokee and Huron mixed-blood ancestry.

This e-interview transpired between QME editor Suzanne
Sunshower and Ms. Hedge Coke, during Ms. Hedge Coke’s
recent travels.

On Writing…

Judging by your new book, “Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival”, your prose style
seems well-informed by poetics.  Were you particularly conscious that you were working in a
different ‘medium’ than what I assume is your most comfortable (poetry)?
AAHC:   I have always written prose as well as poetry.  I have been more generous with my
poetry since it is a genre that allows you a bit more anonymity.

Was writing a prose book like trying to ‘stay within the lines’?
AAHC:   Just a different approach.  Not difficult due to the genre, more due to the content
explored here.

You make different kinds of writing (including scriptwriting, I believe) and you’ve been involved in
other arts – do you often get questioned about your multiple efforts?
AAHC:   Only by strangers.  I have worked in multiple mediums and genres since childhood.  I
think the commercial aspect of the arts dictate compartmentalism and tunnel vision.  Nature
dictates differently.  I have a range of ability and of interests, all natural and all necessary to
fulfillment of separate works.

Do you feel as though there is one artistic medium, or genre, that is your primary home? Does there
have to be?
AAHC :  Not especially.  I think the field is arbitrary and subjective.

On Publishing…

Were you surprised, perhaps disappointed, to learn how long (years) the publication process would
take for your books?
AA:   No.  The first time out I felt it would give me time to prepare for the aftermath.  The
memoir came out quickly.  I didn’t submit it until the draft had sat on my shelf for quite a while.
By the time it went in it was ready for a final draft and then off to the press.  The poetry takes a
while.  It depends on what press you are with; my poetry press tends to be very slow but very
good.  They do a dynamite job of getting the book out and in great shape.  Worth the wait.

The obvious next question is…  don’t you find things you’d like to change in the work during that
time – or do you just put the project out of mind and move on?
AAHC:   You have an option to change things until the final press date.  I edit up until that time.

You earned the American Book Award for “Dog Road Woman” (poetry) and were nominated for
the Puishcart Prize (poetry).  Do writing awards matter to you?
AAHC:   Of course.  I thought my 64 unit MFA diploma would hold the most esteemed place on
the wall forever, being that I was the first to ever receive a grad degree in all of my relations
literally.  The American Book Award took the spot immediately.

Does it matter from whom an award comes – say, being honored by Indigenous people vs. the
Caucasian literary powers that be?
AAHC:   Sometimes it is from both, ie: the American Book Award.  Mine was nominated and
voted for by Indigenous people and non-Native people at once, and there are Indigenous people
on the board that selects this award.  The Mentor of the Year Award from the Wordcraft Circle of
Native Writers & Storytellers is a favorite.  I enjoy and am honored by both.

Life as Art…

Your new book chronicles your difficult early life in the wake of your family’s coping with your
mother’s mental illness.   Were you apprehensive about opening up your family members to life as
art – in that it is their lives, too, revealed in the book and the picture isn’t necessarily flattering; in
fact, potentially embarrassing?
AAHC:   I am never embarrassed by happenstance in life.  I didn’t give my mother schizophrenia
and it wasn’t her choice either.  We were just kids coping and not coping.  My folks did the best
they could.  My mother gave me her blessing in the telling, before I submitted it for publication.
That’s all that mattered to me, her opinion and her feelings.  The work was composed to enable
other people to visit into the world we came from, and to alleviate the prison of silence imposed
upon those who are suffering in life.   It
[the book] intends to empower those living in shame and
silence, and to open doors for understanding.

You’re editing a couple anthologies…  “Children of the Chronically Insane” and “Working-Class
.  Do you think that writing about certain life experiences can be therapeutic, as well as
informative for others?
AAHC:    I teach therapeutic writing for all ages, master classes and graduate writing programs
nationwide.  I teach my own creative process, my bag of tricks.  Coupling the beautiful and
horrendous allows one to cope.  Writing in general is therapeutic.  Sometimes dangerously so.  It
took me years to get over what I divulged in this telling.  By the time I got over reeling, I
submitted the work.

Do you have any conscious desire to politicize your work – or do you feel it is politicized by virtue of
who you are and your experiences?
AAHC:   The latter.  Definitely.

Are you involved with groups overtly connecting art and politics such as “Poets against the War”,
or Indigenous groups which connect art and action?
AAHC:   I have organized PAW readings locally since Sam Hamill wrote a note to me asking me
to do so, pre this war.  I have published on their
[PAW} page, and I am included in the 234 poems
gleaned from the 10,000 poems on the site for a hard copy publication.  I may be the only South
Dakota writer in the book form collection.  I have been involved with Indigenous alliances,
organizations, convergences since my mid-teens.  I have spent twenty-five years using art
(literary, musical, visual, and performance) as a connective base to teach and bridge humanity,
and empower youth and adults.  I served on the national caucus of Wordcraft Circle, was a
director for the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts, and numerous other venues of
association.  It’s a natural connection.  I’ve been active, and actively informed, since childhood.
The beginnings are in the memoir.

The Face of Art…

You mention in your website’s poet’s statement that you enjoy the works of Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan,
and Zora Neale Hurston.  Do you find that the young people whom you mentor are familiar with
these women writers of color? Need we be vigilant about educating readers of all colors and ages to
these writers?
AAHC:   Usually not [familiar].  I teach exercises of creative process and strategy and utilize the
works of the writers mentioned and others, to teach from and educate.  I definitely push the
works of many writers.

Do you advise writers and poets of color to become particularly involved in the artistic
organizations founded within their own ethnic groups, or based upon your own experience, do you
think there can be found enough satisfying inclusion and career opportunity within majority-
Caucasian literary communities?
AAHC:   I am rarely involved with majority European descent art associations, except on the
parameters/fringes.  I do serve on the state Arts Alliance Board (overseeing arts in education),
which is majority white, but we only meet once or twice a year so it’s not so restrictive.  I also
serve on the Sioux Falls Housing Corporation Board, which is also almost all white.  If there is
work to be done and I can assist with the program and benefit all (including Indigenous and other
communities of non-white distinction) then I will offer a hand.  Hey, they need help at times more
than we do.  Without us, who would provide the voice they
[whites in power] need to attend to?

As you travel your own artistic road, are you satisfied that you see enough representation by
(specifically) Indigenous peoples at the various levels of the literary arts? By this I mean –
represented through public readings; getting published; getting inside the publishing industry; being
seen on t.v. or heard on radio; getting paid…etc?
AAHC:   I am mostly involved with other Indigenous writers.  Most of whom are premiere US and
Canadian writers as well.  They work constantly, as do I.  I feel there needs to be more of us to
fill the huge gap of representation, and I have worked most of my life to foster a new generation
of writers/artists to do so.

Do you want to be simply a writer, as opposed to an Indigenous writer? Could it even be possible?
AAHC:   I believe the work of Indigenous writers belongs on the specific genre shelf with all
writers in that genre.  Extra copies could be shelved on the (usually tiny) shelf for Native
American, or multicultural.  So few people look for the specific shelf necessary to find our works
that we remain unknown to the unfamiliar reader.  A crime of compartmentalization.  If an Irish
writer is confined to a shelf specifically for Irish literature, how many people would normally
browse that shelf, upon a short bookstore visit?  We
[Native writers] are invisible enough.
Visibility is a deserved end of the publication world.  I was born Indian and I’ll die that way.
Being included with other poets and writers doesn’t change my identity a bit.  It merely allows me
new readership.

Thank you, Allison!
AAHC:   Bless you!!