Whiskey Tender: A Memoir (Hardcover)

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Reminiscent of the works of Mary Karr and Terese Marie Mailhot, a memoir of family and survival, coming-of-age on and off the reservation, and of the frictions between mainstream American culture and Native inheritance; assimilation and reverence for tradition.

Deborah Jackson Taffa was raised to believe that some sacrifices were necessary to achieve a better life. Her grandparents—citizens of the Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo tribe—were sent to Indian boarding schools run by white missionaries, while her parents were encouraged to take part in governmental job training off the reservation. Assimilation meant relocation, but as Taffa matured into adulthood, she began to question the promise handed down by her elders and by American society: that if she gave up her culture, her land, and her traditions, she would not only be accepted, but would be able to achieve the “American Dream.”

Whiskey Tender traces how a mixed tribe native girl—born on the California Yuma reservation and raised in Navajo territory in New Mexico—comes to her own interpretation of identity, despite her parent’s desires for her to transcend the class and “Indian” status of her birth through education, and despite the Quechan tribe’s particular traditions and beliefs regarding oral and recorded histories. Taffa’s childhood memories unspool into meditations on tribal identity, the rampant criminalization of Native men, governmental assimilation policies, the Red Power movement, and the negotiation between belonging and resisting systemic oppression. Pan-Indian, as well as specific tribal histories and myths, blend with stories of a 1970s and 1980s childhood spent on and off the reservation.

Taffa offers a sharp and thought-provoking historical analysis laced with humor and heart. As she reflects on her past and present—the promise of assimilation and the many betrayals her family has suffered, both personal and historical; trauma passed down through generations—she reminds us of how the cultural narratives of her ancestors have been excluded from the central mythologies and structures of the “melting pot” of America, revealing all that is sacrificed for the promise of acceptance.

About the Author

Deborah Jackson Taffa is a citizen of the Quechan (Yuma) Nation and Laguna Pueblo. She earned her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and is the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, A Public Space, Salon, the Huffington Post, Prairie Schooner, The Best Travel Writing, and other outlets.

Praise For…

"I was completely taken by Whiskey Tender: its gorgeous sentences, its searing observations about identity and loss and inheritance, and its exploration of generational and terrestrial traumas. This is a strong and special book."  — Carmen Maria Machado, bestselling author of In the Dream House

"A warm and propulsive personal history that lucidly traces its Native and colonial legacies to draw a complex and humane portrait of a family and a pivotal political time in U.S. history. Taffa is a gifted raconteur and her memoir should be required reading for everyone in this country."  — Melissa Febos, author of Body Work and Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

"Deborah Taffa's Whiskey Tender is an intricately-layered and emotional glimpse into family, discovery, and home. This memoir is both heartbreaking and beautiful and will leave you thinking about it long after finishing it. A remarkable book." — Brandon Hobson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Removed

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063288515
ISBN-10: 0063288516
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: February 27th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English