Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who Was He?

In 1977, the young adult novel ANPAO : AN AMERICAN INDIAN ODYSSEY was published to great acclaim. The book received a Newbery Honor and its author, Jamake Highwater, was praised for his authentic Native voice. The back flap of the dustjacket features a photograph of Highwater bedecked in Indian regalia and the text tells us this "young writer" is "of Blackfoot/Cherokee" heritage.

Young? He claimed to have been born in 1942, which would have made him 35 at the time of ANPAO's publication. But others claim he may have been born as early as 1923.

Blackfoot/Cherokee? That's still very much in question. Adopted and raised by a caucasian family, he was originally known as "J Marks," "Jay Marks," and "Jack Marks." After an early career as a dancer and choreographer, he became a music critic and published a book about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. In the late 1960s he began to claim that his birth mother was Cherokee and his father was Greek, but later changed the story (and the names of his supposed parents), saying his mother was Cherokee, his father was Blackfoot and they had died of starvation during the Depression. After publishing the FODOR GUIDE TO INDIAN AMERICA as "Jamake Hightower," he became known as a authority on Native life and began publishing fiction and nonfiction on Indian themes.

During the 1980s, many Native Americans began questioning Highwater's background and branded him a liar, saying he had no Indian blood at all. For an interesting look at the controversy, check out the essay "Jack Marks is Dead, Oh Well" at

Highwater died in 2001, taking his secrets with him. But his books remain. Because of its status as a Newbery Honor, ANPAO continues to be read and studied in schools. Considered a brilliant, award-winning novel in 1977, do the critical approbations change now that it's fairly evident the author was an imposter? Is the book any less valid now that we know it's not written with an authentic Native voice but was instead written by an outsider looking in? I don't know the answers to these questions, but they are intriguing to ponder.

by Jamake Highwater ; illustrated by Fritz Scholder
Published by Lippincott, 1977.

What makes the book collectable:

It's a Newbery Honor Book.

The controversy about its author.

First edition points:

Bound in orange cloth.

The dustjacket price is $8.95.

The print key on the copyright page is as follows: 2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Some copies, particularly signed ones, are listed at several hundred dollars, but a nice first edition can still be found for $45 or less.

There are also some ARCs available, printed in the "old school" style -- very tall, narrow volumes whose pages don't match the pagination of the hardcover; the illustrations are not printed in the ARC.

My copy of the book (purchased for thirty-five dollars less than ten years ago) is inscribed to its former owner. The signature is nearly impossible to read. He could have signed it with almost any name and we'd never know the difference.

And isn't that ironic.


Esperanza said...

In some of your posts earlier this year you included your thoughts on why the title might be collectable and information on recognizing and obtaining a first edition. Will you continue to include that? I find it interesting.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Esperanza. I went back and added that info to the blog entry.

Thanks for your continued support.


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