Rez Dogs: Joseph Bruchac's 2022 BGHB Fiction and Poetry Honor Speech

Kwai nid8bak. Hello, my friends. I am so pleased — for at least four reasons — that my novel Rez Dogs has been chosen as a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book this year.

The first reason, of course, is that this award is such a meaningful and respected one. So many wonderful and significant books have been chosen over the years that having mine among them truly delights me.

The second reason is that this recognition in the category of fiction and poetry is particularly appropriate for my first novel written in verse. Rez Dogs combines both genres to tell the story of Malian, a determined Wabanaki girl, and the dog that adopts her and her grandparents. Poetry was my first love — where I was first published and recognized as a writer. And telling stories, such as the traditional ones folded into my narrative, has been a central part of my personal and professional life over the past six decades.

The third reason this story is particularly close to my heart is that it explores the connection between a young person and her grandparents. It’s a relationship found more often these days in Indigenous communities than in majority culture — where one’s elders are often distant, seldom seen, even shunted off into facilities where they have little or no contact with grandchildren. As one raised by his grandparents, I can tell you how much it means to have that connection as a young person. I would not be who I am today without my maternal grandmother and grandfather, Marion and Jesse Bowman.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2022 BGHB Fiction and Poetry winners.]

The fourth reason is that my story takes place entirely within a Native community during the pandemic. It is no exaggeration to say that people in our reservation communities were more deeply affected by the pandemic than almost any other group in this country. The difficulties they faced, the loss of elders, and the uncertainty of the two years when COVID-19 seemed to be out of control are things I was very aware of — and I made it a point to support several of the different relief funds for Native communities.

My tale, though, is not a tragic one. Instead, its focus is on the lasting, inspiring strength of family, of story, and of the bond between dogs and people that’s always been part of the American Indian experience. Malsum, the dog at the heart of this tale, exemplifies that. Throughout my life I’ve been blessed by the companionship of dogs, and I’ve learned constantly from them lessons in courage, faithfulness, and caring. I could not have written this book without them. Wliwini alemosak nid8bak. Thank you, my dog friends.

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2022 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB22. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Joseph Bruchac.

Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac is the author of the 2022 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor book Rez Dogs.

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