“The Raid,” a story
Chip Livingston is a mixed-blood Creek author. His works include the novel Owls Don’t Have to Mean Death, the collection of short stories and essays, Naming Ceremony, two poetry collections, Crow-Blue, Crow-Black and Museum of False Starts, and the poetry chapbook, Alarum. Livingston has received writing awards from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, and the AABB Foundation. He is a professor in the Low-Rez MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He is also a freelance editor. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.
As a writer who works in multiple genres, why did you choose the short story form for “The Raid”?
CL: The short story is my favorite form, so I suppose with any idea I might want to explore on the page, I first think of how it might be structured in terms of plot. Because with “The Raid,” I knew there were multiple conflicts, internal and external, I thought it might work as a story, though I have taken some scenes cut from the original, much longer version, and have been playing with them in verse and micro-fiction. The story currently ends at this big new conflict/crisis and I was tempted to keep writing what happens after that scene—the real challenge was keeping the short story short and not letting it evolve into a novel.
MR: How do your experiences working with poetry influence your writing, even when working in another genre?
CL: My love for and study of poetry pervade my creative work, and I attempt to use poetic elements such as rhythm, repetition, and internal rhyme in all my prose, whether it’s in a repeated or varied sentence structure, or alliteration—some kind of sound play or echo, paying attention to metaphors. I think poetry teaches us to bring nuance through sound and suggestion, and that tuning of language is also attempted in my prose.
MR: “The Raid” locates a Native protagonist in a contemporary urban setting— a fraternity on a college campus. As a Native writer, do you find that readers (and editors) expect to see Native protagonists in certain settings (reservations, in “nature,” etc)? If so, how do you work with or against that expectation? If not, what do you think has changed and why?
CL: I guess the literature by Native writers that I read is predominantly urban, suburban, and almost exclusively contemporary. I think that previous “expectations” or ideas set by Hollywood and twentieth-century publishers have been largely broken by writers like Tommy Orange, Tommy Pico, Toni Jensen, Terese Mailhot, Jamie Figueroa, Cedar Sigo, Erika Wurth, Dennis Staples, Susan Power, Tiffany Midge, Stephen Graham Jones, Elissa Washuta, Brandon Hobson, Kelli Jo Ford, Ursula Pike, and I could go on and on with these examples. Not all of these writers are associated with the Institute of American Indian Arts, but many of them are. One of the slogans of the IAIA MFA program has been “Rewrite the Literary Landscape,” aiming for accuracy in our representation and the breaking of stereotypes or expectations. I think non-Native people are waking up to a reality we’ve known for years: We’re damn good storytellers, and not all of our stories happen in “nature” or “on the reservation.”
MR: You said in a previous interview that you wanted to write specifically about a gay Native in a straight white fraternity. Why did you want to write about that specific topic? What did it allow you to explore?
CL: Ah, it wasn’t just a scenario I thought would be story-worthy. It was based on my own experience trying to “pass” in college—passing more as straight than white, which my pale skin allows. But the dynamic of a “fish out of water” is usually a good place to put a protagonist. I often think back on my time in a fraternity and ask, Why did I do that to myself? I guess the urgency to write about those past events now was also inspired by the international news story of the two Native kids who were kicked out of the university campus tour in Colorado for making a white mother “uncomfortable” by their presence. That was the spark to finally get it on the page.
MR: Did you write “The Raid” specifically for this issue of Massachusetts Review or was it a piece you were already working on?
CL: I had begun the story prior to knowing about Massachusetts Review’s special issue, but knowing it was a potential place to submit the story, the deadline helped me to stop expanding it and to finish it.
MR: What are some books or writers you’ve read this year that excited you?
CL: Gosh, many of those authors I name above have had amazing recent books. Since I mention Elissa Washuta’s first essay collection in my suggested resources, and the fact that I absolutely loved and admired it, her new memoir White Magic is mind-blowingly brilliant. I reviewed it in the June 2021 issue of The Cincinnati Review. Other really recent Native-authored books I loved include Danielle Geller’s Dog Flowers, David Weiden’s Winter Counts, Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem, Jensen’s Carry, Jones’ The Only Good Indians, Figueroa’s Brother. Sister. Mother. Explorer, Joshua Whitehead’s Johnny Appleseed, Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah, Hobson’s The Removed, Pike’s An Indian Among los Indígenas. I’m surely forgetting other major ones. Favorite new non-Native authors’ books I’ve also been recommending and buying as gifts include Carolina De Robertis’s amazing new The President and the Frog and Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet.
MR: Do you have upcoming publications that you’d like readers to know about?
CL: I’ve been editing a manuscript of the literary correspondence between Lucia Berlin and Kenward Elmslie, titled LOVE, LOOSHA, due out from University of New Mexico Press in 2022. Lucia and Kenward wrote about two letters a week to each other for more than ten years. She was my mentor at the University of Colorado and first introduced me to their friendship through their letters. Later, Lucia introduced me to Kenward in person and I became his assistant for nine years. I’m very excited about the publication of their correspondence, how it tells the stories of their lives, the stories behind their books and shows, their ups and downs, their deep, true friendship.
I’ll have some new nonfiction of mine online at the Los Angeles Review and Entropy, poetry appearing in Juked and a New York Quarterly anthology. I’ve recently completed new prose and poetry collections, in manuscript form at the moment, but my focus is returning to my own work after a real emphasis on LOVE, LOOSHA the last couple of years.
1. Native American Rights Fund website, a nonprofit legal organization that provides legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide who might otherwise go without adequate representation.
2. My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta (Red Hen Press). A book of essays by a Native author. Livingston thinks this book should be required reading for all college students.
3. “Consumption” an essay by Elissa Washuta in ELECTRIC LITERATURE.
4. The Ali Forney Center: Resources for homeless GLBTQ youth.
5. Tribal College Journal A magazine and resources for Tribal Colleges and Universities.