‘Against all odds’: Sarris speaks on storytelling

‘Against all odds’: Sarris speaks on storytelling

“We’re complicated people who suffered a traumatic history, but we have humor and dignity and against all odds,” Greg Sarris M.A. ’81, Ph.D ’89 said to an audience of over 100 people at an event celebrating his new book “The Forgetters” Tuesday night at Cemex. 

“The Forgetters” follows the conversations between two sister crows, Question Woman and Answer Woman, in a dialogue-driven narrative. Question Woman cannot remember a story until she asks for it to be told, and Answer Woman cannot tell stories unless she is asked. The sisters tell the stories of The Forgetters, people who have forgotten their past.

Other characters in the novel, including a boy, a young woman and two village leaders, who search through their past for a lesson that will help them repair problems in their lives. 

Before reading an excerpt from the book, Sarris spoke with Stanford creative writing lecturer Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. 

Sarris explained that he used the historical lens of the indigenous universe, when animals were still people, to guide his writing. The old story says that someone got too greedy and caused trouble, so the animals all ran away and hid. The animals left behind all the humans who tried to reconnect with what they have lost and forgotten. 

“I want to write about what happened to us after we became human, create stories about real people who need to learn that we are not the center of the universe and [that] some of our best intentions have the worst outcomes,” Sarris said. 

Sarris then read a short passage from “The Forgetters,” followed by the first short story in the book. 

When discussing his first stories written about Native American characters, Sarris said a professor he had while attending Stanford professor did not believe he could publish them. 

“He had no idea that an Indian could be something other than someone in a loincloth on an Appalachian horse chasing buffalo,” Sarris said. 

Sarris also explained the disconnect that Hollywood producers had when a movie adaptation of his novel, Grand Avenue, was in development. 

The movie centered a native family displaced from their tribe, with an alcoholic single mother struggling to provide for the family as well as parent an unruly daughter. 

Producers would question why the mother did not take her daughter to counseling or enroll her in piano lessons. 

Sarris explained it like this: “If a spaceship landed in your lawn and said we’re going to Mars in five minutes would you go? No, because you don’t know anything about it. That’s like us.” 

During the Q&A section of the event, an audience member asked why Sarris chose to share stories in “The Forgetters” through conversation. 

“I wanted to begin with the feeling of the ancient tradition, but I also wanted to feel like being at home where you heard people talking back and forth and telling stories all night,” he said. 

The event concluded with a book signing for “The Forgetters.”

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