22 Must-Read Indigenous Authors

22 Must-Read Indigenous Authors

It was an honor and a challenge to put together this list. My reading life has been immeasurably improved by the many brilliant Indigenous authors I’ve read, and it’s hard to distill such a vast and complicated literature into one short list. This one is meant only to be a jumping off point.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, which takes place in November, I’ve focused exclusively on Indigenous authors from the U.S. and Canada. I’ve also limited the list to authors with at least two published works, though many of these writers have written dozens of books. I’ve tried to select a group of authors that reflects the incredible diversity of First Nations and Indigenous literature, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. Here you’ll find poets and novelists; writers of memoir, history, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy; authors of YA, MG, and adult books. These artists hail from all over the North American continent and represent dozens of different nations.

I didn’t calculate the exact number of books that, combined, these 22 authors have published. It’s somewhere in the hundreds. What a gift for all of us! I’ve read at least one book by every author here, and I cannot wait to read the rest. If any of these authors are new to you, all I can say is: you’re in for a real treat.

22 Must-Read Indigenous Authors

Joshua Whitehead

Joshua Whitehead burst onto the scene in 2018 with his brilliant debut novel, Jonny Appleseed. It’s a funny, moving, original story about a 20-something Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer person living and loving and working and remembering in the week leading up to his stepdad’s funeral. It won the 2021 Canada Reads Award. Whitehead is a member of the Peguis First Nation and a scholar and professor at the University of Calgary. His newest book, Making Love with the Land, is a genre-defying collection of essays about nature, kinship, queerness, and language.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich book cover

Louise Erdrich

There’s no doubt Louise Erdrich is one of the best and most prolific authors writing today. She’s won numerous prizes for her many books, including the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for The Night Watchman and the 2012 National Book Award for The Round House. She’s written children’s books (The Birchbark House), poetry (Jacklight) and over a dozen novels. Her latest book, The Sentence, features a fictionalized version of the real bookstore she owns in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books!

Cover of Noopiming

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

If you’re looking for an author who writes across many genres, and who has an extensive backlist to dig into, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson should be at the top of your to-read list! She is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer, scholar, musician, and artist who has recorded several albums in addition to her many books. Her fiction includes novels, such as the beautifully unique Noopiming, and short fiction (Islands of Decolonial Love). She’s also written and edited an an array of nonfiction, much of which deals with Indigenous culture, history, and activism, including Rehearsals for Living and A Short History of the Blockade.

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Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt is a queer writer and scholar from the Driftpile Cree Nation. His work is a dazzling blend of the personal and the academic. In his four books of poetry, essays, and fiction, he explores the limits of academic thought, the possibilities of queer and Indigenous world-building, the body, desire, the legacies of colonial violence, and a whole lot more. His newest book, A Minor Chorus, is my personal favorite, but you should really just read everything he’s written, starting with his debut, This Wound is a World.

The Tao of Raven book cover

Ernestine Hayes

Ernestine Hayes is a Tlingit writer and professor emeritus from Juneau, Alaska. She was the State Writer Laureate of Alaska from 2016 to 2018, and in addition to many shorter workers, has published two memoirs, Blonde Indian and The Tao of Raven. Lovers of genre-defying, non-linear nonfiction, take note: Hayes’s work is layered and intricate, grounded in Tlingit storytelling traditions.

How We Became Human Joy Harjo cover

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a poet and performer from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2019-2022. Her work includes many books of poetry and two memoirs, as well as several children’s books and plays. Much of her work concerns the history of the land and Indigenous people on the land. Her poems bring history to life and connect it to the present, but they’re also full of intimate detail about ordinary life. If you’re new to her work, try starting with An American Sunrise or Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, and the pick up her newest memoir, Catching the Light.

cover of Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline

I fell in love with Dimaline’s work after reading her brilliant YA post-apocalyptic duology, starting with The Marrow Thieves. It’s a chilling but ultimately hopefully book set in a near-future world in which Indigenous people are hunted for the healing power of their dreams. Dimaline is also the author of the adult novel Empire of Wild, a fantasy inspired by the Métis story of the Rogarou, a werewolf-like creature.

cover of Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is another must-read author for fans of YA fiction! Her debut novel, Elatsoe, follows the adventures of a Lipan Apache teenager trying to solve the mystery of her cousin’s murder. Her sophomore novel, A Snake Falls to Earth, is a beautiful story about the friendship between a Lipan Apache girl and a young man from the spirit realm. Her work is hopeful and warm, full of the beauty of nature and rooted in Lipan Apache culture and tradition.

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Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer (who just won a MacArthur genius grant!) is a scientist, writer, and gardener from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her work explores the relationships between humans and the natural world, and is rooted in traditional Indigenous ways of knowing and learning. If you have yet to read Braiding Sweetgrass for the first time, you are in for a world-opening treat. And I can safely say I will never think about moss the same way again since reading her gorgeous meditation and study on the subject, Gathering Moss.

cover of Nature Poem by Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico is a poet, performer, and screenwriter. Together, his four books of poetry (IRL, Nature Poem, Junk, and Feed) delve into the clashes and contradictions of contemporary queer life, from online dating to the quandary of writing about nature as an urban NDN. His style is precise but also a bit dizzying; his book-length poems are wholly immersive. In addition to poetry, he co-hosts the queer culture podcast Food 4 Thot and is a writer on the TV series Reservation Dogs.

Cover of Permanent Astonishment

Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway is primarily a playwright, having over a dozen plays, including The Rez Sisters. But he’s also the author of a coming-of-age novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, several children’s books, and a memoir, Permanent Astonishment. He often incorporates his first language, Cree, into his work — he wrote the libretto for a Cree language opera, and in 2022, he released an album of Cree country songs, Cree Country.

Book cover of The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson

Dakota writer and educator Diane Wilson published her debut novel, The Seed Keeper, in 2021. If you’re looking for an exquisite blend of contemporary and historical fiction about family, community, and the natural world, you’re going to want to run to this book. Wilson has also written several works of nonfiction and memoir that explore Dakota history, culture, and tradition. Her first picture book, Where We Come From, just came out in October.

Cover of Hearts Unbroken

Cynthia Leitich Smith

In addition to being a writer, Cynthia Leitich Smith is a dedicated advocate of Indigenous lit for kids and teens. She is the author-curator of Harper’s Heartdrum imprint, where she helps to bring Native-centered children’s stories into the world. Her own work includes several YA and middle grade books, including Hearts Unbroken, Sisters of the Neversea, and the wonderful anthology of stories centered around one eventful powwow, Ancestor Approved.

Son of a Trickster Eden Robinson book cover

Eden Robinson

Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations and an author with incredible range. She’s most well-known for her Trickster trilogy, a coming-of-age saga about an Indigenous teenager dealing with all the challenges of contemporary life, and a few magical ones, as well. My personal favorite is Monkey Beach, which is set in the Kitamaat, British Columbia, where Robinson grew up. But whether she’s writing about monsters, berry picking, or complex family dynamics, Robinson’s writing is always vivid, alive, and full of emotion.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer book cover

David Treuer

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand American history. Treuer delves into Indigenous history in the 20th and 21st centuries, examining how Indigenous people have shaped so many aspects of American life and culture. He’s also the author of several novels, and another work of nonfiction, Rez Life, which looks at reservation life in the past and present.

Cover of House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

N. Scott Momaday is a Kiowa author who’s dabbled in just about every form, including novels, poetry, memoir, short stories, and essays. His novel House Made of Dawn won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. His two latest collections of poetry, The Death of Sitting Bear and Earth Keeper are both concerned with spirituality, cultural traditions, and the natural world.

For Joshua Richard Wagamese cover

Richard Wagamese

Like so many of the brilliant writers on this list, Richard Wagamese’s extensive catalog includes work in many genres. His best-known novel, Indian Horse, deals with the trauma of residential schools. He also wrote memoir (One Native Life), as well as genre-defying nonfiction that blends essay, songs, ceremony, and letters (One Drum and For Joshua). Wagamese passed in 2017 but leaves behind an impressive body of work.

Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon book cover

Marcie R. Rendon

Marcie R. Rendon is a member of the White Earth Nation and the author of the Cash Blackbear mystery series. Set in Minnesota in the 1970s, the novels follow 19-year-old Cash Blackbear, an Ojibwe teenager who uses her visions to help her solve crimes. Mystery fans looking for a smart, thoughtful, and action-packed series to fall in love with will not be disappointed.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones book cover

Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American writer of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction of just about every flavor. He’s written over 20 books, and he’s only 50, so I’m not sure how he finds time to do things like sleep. Though most of his work falls somewhere on the horror/speculative spectrum, he seems to delight in writing everything from slashers to literary thrillers and everything in between. If you’re not sure where to start, try Mongrels, Night of the Mannequins, or The Only Good Indians.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz book cover

Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz is the author of two poetry collections, Postcolonial Love Poem and When My Brother Was an Aztec. But don’t be fooled into thinking that means it won’t take that long to read her entire catalog (so far), because her work is the kind of slippery, layered, dazzling poetry that is meant to be read and reread. She writes about the Southwestern landscape, rivers and water, queerness, family, love, language, and so much more.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac book cover

Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac is an Abenaki writer and storyteller who has written over 100 books for both children and adults. His most recent book, Rez Dogs, is a middle grade novel in verse about a Wabanaki girl quarantining at her grandparents’ reservation during the early days of the pandemic. He’s also published poetry, nonfiction, and various versions of traditional Abenaki stories.

Cover of Sabrina and Corina

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a mixed-race writer from Denver, Colorado. Both her story collection Sabrina & Corina and her novel, Woman of Light, center Indigenous Chicano and Latine characters in the American West. Sabrina & Corina, set in Denver, is about mothers, daughters, female friendship, and ancestral power, while Woman of Light is a sweeping historical family saga.

Looking for more? Check out these great Indigenous memoirs and this list of queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous fiction. You’ll find even more fantastic books on this list of popular Indigenous books from 2020. And you can always browse our Indigenous authors archive for even more brilliant books!

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