Beth Piatote's luminous debut collection opens with a feast, grounding its stories in the landscapes and lifeworlds of the Native Northwest, exploring the inventive and unforgettable pattern of Native American life in the contemporary world
Told with humor, subtlety, and spareness, the mixed–genre works of Beth Piatote’s first collection find unifying themes in the strength of kinship, the pulse of longing, and the language of return.
A woman teaches her niece to make a pair of beaded earrings while ruminating on a fractured relationship. An eleven–year–old girl narrates the unfolding of the Fish Wars in the 1960s as her family is propelled to its front lines. In 1890, as tensions escalate at Wounded Knee, two young men at college—one French and the other Lakota—each contemplate a death in the family. In the final, haunting piece, a Nez Perce–Cayuse family is torn apart as they debate the fate of ancestral remains in a moving revision of the Greek tragedy Antigone.
Formally inventive and filled with vibrant characters, The Beadworkers draws on Indigenous aesthetics and forms to offer a powerful, sustaining vision of Native life.
About the Author
Beth Piatote is an associate professor of Native American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a PhD from Stanford University, is the author of numerous scholarly essays and creative works, and is the recipient of multiple awards and fellowships. She is Nez Perce enrolled with Colville Confederated Tribes and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her two children.
Praise for The Beadworkers
Long–listed for the 2020 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection Long–listed for the 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize Shortlisted for the 2019 NCIBA Golden Poppy Book Award Long–listed for the 2019 Northern California Golden Poppy Book Award in Fiction
"Provocative . . . [A] richly layered debut short story collection . . . A collection that gives voice to what is so often left unsaid." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Piatote is Nez Perce, and a Native American Studies professor at UC Berkeley. In this eloquent and elucidating debut story collection she brings the Native experience to life—from the long line of broken treaties and the tragic effect on Native tribes from coast to coast to contemporary repercussions from forced attendance at Indian boarding schools . . . Piatote draws the reader in with spare and perceptive language and resonate empathy for each struggling yet resilient character." —Booklist
"Piatote’s debut collection mixes poetry, verse, and prose to form an impressive reflection on the lives of modern Native Americans. Piatote, a Nez Perce enrolled with the Colville Confederated Tribes, fits much nuance and profundity into stories that often reflect on the ways in which contemporary mainstream American culture continues to erase the identities and traditions of indigenous groups . . . This beautiful collection announces Piatote as a writer to watch." —Publishers Weekly
"Hope and heartbreak abound in this debut collection set among Native Americans in the northwest . . . Piatote balances the emotional complexities of her characters' lives with the political complexity of their relationship with an America all too eager to look away. A poignant and challenging look at the way the past and present collide." —Kirkus Reviews
"Her prose might be lean, but as a whole her debut short story collection, The Beadworkers, is lush and kaleidoscopic . . . With humor, compassion, and insight, it explores the ease with which conflict seeps through time, and celebrates the resilience of people, beauty, and art in its midst." —Sam Levin, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"This stunning debut collection marks the arrival of a brilliant storyteller; Beth Piatote weaves together political, historical, and personal themes to offer new perspectives on the human condition . . . Piatote, who is Nez Perce, writes with dazzling clarity, emotion, and bone–dry humor about the lives of indigenous people, in what feels like a celebration, an act of love, and one of the most unforgettable story collections of the year." —Kristin Iversen, NYLON
"Gripping and utterly readable . . . The stories here are wide–ranging but encompass many perspectives of Indigenous people in North America." —Literary Hub
"The short story collection The Beadworkers mixes prose, poetry, and verse to create a rich tapestry of Native–American cultural heritage. There is a sparseness to Beth Piatote’s prose that belies the depth of her chosen subject and the long, complicated history of American Indian Law. Hers is a language that pulls you along and manages to convey both the troubling injustice faced by Native peoples in this country and a sense of joy and celebration, especially when she is writing about the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the lyricism of the Nez Perce language, or the power of kinship." —Carrie V. Mullins, Electric Literature
"This exceptional debut collection is as accessible as it is experimental. The Beadworkers combines poetry and prose in a set of Native American stories that decolonize the short story form while mastering it." —Book Riot
"Beth Piatote strings together stories like the intricate strands of a handmade necklace. The Beadworkers gathers those strings together into an illustrious whole. Piatote, who is Nez Perce and an associate professor of Native American studies, has previously written both scholarly and creative works. She brings her expertise to the page with this collection, where individual pieces often defy genre labels . . . The collected pieces of The Beadworkers explore place and identity in vibrant scenes. Throughout, Piatote reveals Native American life in contexts modern, historic and mythical." —Carla Jean Whitley, BookPage
"The Beadworkers is a feast of wit and storytelling. I read it once to see where Piatote would go next. Twice to savor the emotional, cultural, and structural resonance of this wonderful work." —Louise Erdrich, author of The Night Watchman
“Beth Piatote’s debut collection is smart, layered, and inventive. This is a profound and humorous meditation on Native families, language, and life. It is braided, and beaded, and true.” —Tommy Orange, author of There There
"Beth Piatote has created a ritual of clarity, transformation, and wonder. Elegant and vivid, her book is alive, and it will make its readers see the world in a bright new light. I can't recommend it highly enough." —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
"Beth Piatote’s marvelous debut short story collection explores crossroads in the lives of unforgettable Indigenous characters within urban, suburban, rural and reservation settings, both past and present . . . The Beadworkers is an intricate and poignant set of meditations on how to move forward with identity and hope intact while reconciling with loss, both collective and personal." —Erin Keane and Ashlie D. Stevens, Salon
"The Beadworkers is beautifully crafted with indigenous storytelling techniques and narrative designs. Throughout, Beth Piatote renders Native American life in all its emotional complexity, profound tragedy, subversive humor, and transformative resilience. After the final drum beat, this book becomes an offering to ancestors, a feast of words, and a water song flowing across generations." —Craig Santos Perez, author of from unincorporated territory [lukao]
"The Beadworkers is an essential celebration of language, kinship, and the enduring power of story. In an exhilarating diversity of voices and literary forms, and with extraordinary heart and artistic precision, this book moves, teaches, and surprises. Beth Piatote is a writer to cherish and trust." —David Chariandy, author of I've Been Meaning to Tell You
“I loved it! It was like an adventure into Indian Thinking. Beth Piatote weaves characters, myths, emotions, and elements together like she is weaving a fine Plateau cornhusk bag. The stories engage your senses, emotions, and memories like a trip to the reservation. I knew I wanted to read this book again before I was even halfway through! I could feel the wind from the river, and I could smell the fragrance of freshly picked huckleberries on a warm summer day by reading her words and going to her places in the book. I could identify with some characters, and other familiar characters resounded with me to the point that it felt like this book was written just for me. I think a lot of people could get that feeling from reading this book." —Marcus Amerman, traditional beadworker