New Release Spring 2016

Written over two decades, a masterpiece of American literature

"Poetry at its most satirical and courageous. A tremendous book." Seamus Heaney

"Few voices in American literature are so honest and daring." Mark Strand

"An astute and intelligent exploration of what it means to be Native American in the 21st century."  Maria Gillan, winner of the American Book Award

"Reminiscent of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology, Indian Giver is the most important poetry book to come out of America in years."  Aeronwy Thomas (Dylan Thomas' daughter)

"What impresses me most about John Smelcer, aside from his powerful writing, is his tenacity—his indomitable spirit. He has never given up; he has never let others quiet his voice. He continues to write and the world continues to listen to what he has to say."  James Welch, author of Fools Crow, The Indian Lawyer, & Winter in the Blood

James Welch (Blackfeet) was one of the most influential writers of the American Indian Literary Renaissance, receiving the American Book Award for his novel, Fools Crow. He was a mentor to emerging Native writers like John Smelcer and Sherman Alexie. Click here to read James Welch's praise for John Smelcer.

"Indian Giver tells the harsh truth about the continued genocidal colonialist noose around the neck of every Native American. This is not just history, and perhaps the reality can be captured only through poetry wrought by the hand of one of our most brilliant poets."
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

John Smelcer & the brilliant historian, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2015

"Smelcer's deceptively direct poems have the kind of energy found in the poems of William Carlos Williams and Gary Snyder."  Joseph Bruchac

"John Smelcer is one of the best Native American writers."  Lee Francis

Lee Francis (Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe) was the founder of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers, of which John Smelcer was a founding member. Lee's sister was Paula Gunn Allen, one of the foremost Native writers and scholars of the 20th century. Click here to read what he said about John Smelcer and the poems in Indian Giver.

"Nothing short of splendid. Like an alley fight fought on the petals of a rose."         Robert Nazarene, editor Margie

"Among the best and most original poets in America."  Stanley Kunitz, U.S. Poet Laureate

"So many lines and images stay with me... A striking and beautiful book."  Lyn Lifshin

"The kind of energy found in the poems of William Carlos Williams and Gary Snyder."  Joseph Bruchac

"Angry, honest, proud...The huge range of poems gathered here create a lament, a protest, and an inextinguishable song."  Sherod Santos

"Daring, brilliant, and absolutely defiant! John's Smelcer's poetry is genius."  Ruth Stone, winner of the National Book Award

"[John Smelcer] sings to the cosmos, as Whitman might say. And his words are simple and good. They bring light."  Diane Wakoski

"I'm amazed that so angry a book can be so sharp of eye and can bestow such pleasure." X.J. Kennedy, Ed. Literature, An Introduction to Poetry, The Bedford Reader

"There are many writers I love, living and dead, published and performers, and very rarely I discover a voice that makes me breathe like I just came up from deep water. John Smelcer is that voice. Where we have become resigned to various degrees of lies, Smelcer's truths are like pure oxygen. The screen has been pulled over our eyes for a long time, and Smelcer tears gaping holes in it, exposing the hard, bare, wonderful, heart-running truth."

"[This] is history from the side omitted from school textbooks. John Smelcer is just one voice among millions of Native Americans. His is a well-honed voice, however. There's much to be gained from listening to him."  Anchorage Dispatch News

"Smelcer is a renowned activist for the Ahtna community in Alaska and the only member of his tribe fluent in reading and writing its Native language. Smelcer’s work is devoted to the double convictions of writing against mainstream culture from a Native American perspective and refuting the stereotypes of old westerns. As he reminds readers in one poem, “Not all Indians ride horses.” Smelcer takes pleasure in these deceptively simple points of clarification and offers humorous commentary on historical documents, such as a “Template for Treaties between the United States of America and Indian Tribes” and an abandoned draft of the Constitution. Smelcer revels in the absurdity of “legal” claims to Native land, and his work rides into darkly cynical territory in poems like “Indian Scalper,” in which Jessie BlackHawk sells tickets outside a Redskins game, and “Recipe for a Reztini,” which includes two shots of cheap gin and a drive around Dead Man’s Curve. A poignant, discomforting, necessary collection."   Booklist

"Smelcer's poetry is a lot like looking at an album of cleverly arranged photos. They record images of their characters' lives, some painful, sharply focused, brightly illuminated in truth, other are blurry and a little out of focus or crooked. Some are framed oddly, missing a head, foot or an arm, reflecting the uncertainty of the subject and the poet who tries to capture it. Regardless of their subject, they all represent the truths of someone navigating the minefield between two cultures. Finally, there is an accuracy of place in his works that I can personally verify, like the cold wind off the glacial silt-grey Copper River. Or a drive down the rutted Herbert Smelcer Avenue to the family's BIA land allotment and fish camp, or feeling like a trespasser standing at the picket fenced graveyard he mentions in his poem "Riversong." Smelcer's poems are for the taking, and he doesn't want them back. They're ours to keep with their satire, outrageously dark humor, and healing doses of pain. It's up to us to decide to own them or not."  Reviewer's Choice, Midwest Book Review

"[Smelcer's] poems challenge readers to rethink American history, contemporary social issues, and identity politics. They will make you feel and think about the world we share in new and, perhaps, challenging ways. As X.J. Kennedy writes in his foreword, “Reading it, I often felt torn between an impulse to laugh and a painful sense of compassion, which is how I respond to the greatest literature, from King Lear to War and Peace (19).” This is great literature that will speak to anyone who thinks deeply and cares passionately about social problems and injustice stemming from globalization, anyone who mourns the loss of cultural traditions... anyone who understands the loneliness of (not quite) belonging to two worlds."

"I've been to John's cabin in Tazlina Village. I've met his Indian relatives, seen the poverty and disillusion, the natural beauty. About John's writing I can say this: The depth, sincerity, and urgency of Smelcer's unique and bipolar vision is not the short-term profiteering of a Kevin Costner, but the product of a life tortured and graced by a celebration of American existence, a comprehension of grand achievement and irretrievable loss."  Bard Young, Ed., Cumberland Poetry Review

Click on Bio to learn more about John Smelcer's tribal affiliation

New Release Fall 2016

A masterpiece of ethnic American literature

    Every Indian parent knew that men from the government would come one day to take their children away. Three generations of Indian children had already been taken from their homes and sent to faraway boarding schools. Some were never seen again. The story was always the same. White men in black suits arrived with a license to steal Indians, and the pleading children would be taken away from their desperate families.
   They were the stolen generations.
   At the factory-like institutions, Indian boys and girls were methodically and inescapably transformed into something in between—not fully White nor Indian. Instead of stamping sheet metal, these factories stamped out Indian identity, language, and culture. The unrelenting process crushed something deep inside every child. This is the story of four children sent to one of the 153 boarding schools in the early 1950s. The identity of the school doesn’t matter. And no matter where they came from—north, south, east, or west—their story is representative of every story, every stolen life.

   Over three decades, more than a hundred Native elders from villages and reservations across the nation invited John Smelcer into their homes to tell him their stories, trusting him to write a book that would tell America what happened at Indian boarding schools. Stealing Indians is the culmination of those interviews with elders, many of whom have long since passed away. The four main characters in the novel, though fictional, are amalgamations based on interviews. For instance, Simon Lone Fight is based in part on Native American Olympic track-and-field medalists, Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills (both of whom attended Indian boarding schools: Thorpe at Carlisle and Mills at Haskell. Mills shared his stories about boarding school with the author at John's tribe's annual meeting in Copper Center, Alaska). Lucy Secondchief is based on an elder who attended a boarding school in Oregon in the 1920s. Lucy's surname is based on my own great aunt, Morrie Secondchief. As incredible as they may seem, Lucy's, Noah's, and Elijah's introductory scenes are based on true events. (Photo of John Smelcer with Billy Mills in 1996 and Morrie Secondchief c. 1992)

When it comes to revisioning the Native American experience, few are as triumphant as John Smelcer."  Howard Zinn, author of A Peoples' History of the United States

"A book about an insidious system of cultural assimilation...something I know a little bit about. A masterpiece."  Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart

"What impresses me most about John Smelcer, aside from his powerful writing, is his indomitable spirit. He has never given up; he has never let others quiet his voice. He continues to write and the world continues to listen to what he has to say."            James Welch, author of Fools Crow, The Indian Lawyer & Winter in the Blood

James Welch (Blackfeet) was one of the most influential writers of the American Indian Literary Renaissance, receiving the American Book Award for his novel, Fools Crow. He was a mentor to emerging Native writers like John Smelcer and Sherman Alexie. Click here to read James Welch's praise for John Smelcer.

"One of our most brilliant writers tells a harsh truth about United States history."       Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

John Smelcer & the brilliant historian, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2015

"Smelcer captures the complexity, the pain, and what the meaning of the boarding schools was for not just the generation before us, but all of those that have followed. Its ripples are still being felt and suffered from in Indian Country." Joseph Bruchac

"John Smelcer is one of the best Native American writers."  Lee Francis

Lee Francis (Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe) was the founder of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers, of which John Smelcer was a founding member. Lee's sister was Paula Gunn Allen, one of the foremost Native writers and scholars of the 20th century. Click here to read what he said about John Smelcer.

“A dramatic and imaginative book about the attempt to silence a people and destroy a culture. Its flesh is fiction, but its bones speak truth. An Indian Stand By Me.”     Roderick Clark, Ed. Rosebud

"Four young teenagers meet and become fast friends at boarding school...But this is no Hogwarts. The Wellington school is an Indian boarding school circa the 1950s, and its students have been forcibly enrolled, taken from their Indian communities across the country...Throughout, Smelcer’s anger about these stolen children is apparent but controlled, and he provides a well-judged balance of horror and hope, with the friendship among his protagonists giving the book heart and an opening to empathy."  The Horn Book

"In a riveting work that Chinua Achebe calls “a masterpiece,” four Indian teenagers are taken from their homes all over America and shipped to a faraway boarding school to begin a new life. To make them “less Indian,” their kidnappers—government men in suits with slips of paper that the children’s parents often couldn’t even read—take the children from their original homes and send them away to distant locales, ostensibly to help them escape poverty and lack of opportunity. The children enroll in a school at Wellington, a place that is desolate, gloomy, and cruel. The purpose of Wellington seems to be to eradicate the “Indian”—to assimilate the children to American culture while driving out their heritage.More than just a story of survival, Stealing Indians is focused on the changing, shifting, and even disappearing identities of the four young teens, who must rely on and trust one another as they navigate their new challenges. Without their connections to home, the young teens adapt to their new world, and the institution behind their kidnapping and forced journey seems to have intentionally orchestrated this crushing of their old senses of self. A commentary on colonialism and oppression, Stealing Indians moves beyond a survival tale by plumbing the depths of the teens’ psychology as they struggle forward in this new world. Ideal for anyone looking for a rich adventure story with depth and heart, Stealing Indians is a work that engages and challenges until the very end."  Foreword Reviews

"Stealing Indians is a marvel of storytelling, a novel that is not only relentlessly engaging and suspenseful, but it compels readers to fathom their hearts and conscience in ways that only the greatest novels ever can. To call this one of the best books about the Native American experience is to trivialize it. This is a book that matters. Heartbreaking and alternatively uplifting. Bound to become a classic. Writing so powerful it steals your breath." (5 stars)

“John Smelcer has us looking back over our shoulder at America’s shameful history with Native Americans…a history as recent as the first half of the 20th century. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is absolutely on the mark in her praise on the back cover where she writes that "Stealing Indians tells a harsh truth about United States history." The novel follows four teenage Indian children who have been taken from their families to a world they barely understand and which does not try to understand them. They are sent away to school to learn how to be white, or at the very least, how to be less Indian. Set in 1950, the story begins with government agents in black cars raiding the reservations and village communities in search of Indian children to assimilate into the mainstream American (white) culture. Smelcer’s voice rings with authenticity and concern for the children who were there. In fact, Smelcer, an oral historian, interviewed over a hundred Native elders across America as part of his research for this book. The master storyteller has done it again crafting a poetic masterpiece."  Reviewer's Choice, Midwest Book Review

“I have to compare this book to Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies in that it exposes a dark corner of American history most people probably aren't aware exists. When I read Necessary Lies, I immediately assumed it was an alternate history because the subject matter seemed so far from possible I couldn't believe it could be true. The same thing happened with Stealing Indians. But the foundation of the story is true. It is based on historical accounts, true stories of the Indian Boarding School experience [sic]. It follows four teenagers as they're taken from their homes by the government to be transported to the fictional school, Wellington. These four students' experiences embody the horrors and degradations of having their identities stripped from them through years of indoctrination and abuse. This book is only "young adult" because the protagonists happen to be teenagers. It's really for everyone who needs to be reminded of where we came from as a nation and just how insidious and deeply rooted our prejudices can be. I imagine it will foster a lot of conversations about the sanctity of cultural identity and our current national responsibility in righting the wrongs of our past.”  Goodreads

When he was chair of Native Studies at the University of Alaska, Dr. Smelcer taught a graduate course in the History of American Indian Education and served as an outside reader for a Ph.D. dissertation on the History of American Indian education at Harvard.

Click here for Dr. Smelcer's comprehensive bibliography of publications related to the Indian boarding school experience.

Click here to watch a trailer from the film The Lost Ones: Long Journey Home, about Apache Indian children sent to Carlisle Indian School in the late 1800s.

Click on Bio to learn more about John Smelcer's tribal affiliation.


Published worldwide in English & Spanish (El Evangelio de Simon)

    Two thousand years ago, during Passover, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker named Jesus was condemned to be crucified—an all too familiar spectacle in Jerusalem in those days. That very morning, a man named Simon, from Cyrene, had come into the city with his two sons to sell a cartload of wine to the crowd of pilgrims flooding into the city. By chance, Roman soldiers compelled Simon to help Jesus carry the heavy cross through the crowded streets. What did Simon witness? What did he and Jesus talk about? Eager to learn more about his unfortunate companion, Simon returned to Jerusalem the next day. What he learned changed his life forever. Ever since, the descendants of Simon have safeguarded an incredible secret. A book for everyone, no matter what you believe...or don't.

The book includes an interview between the author and W.P. Kinsella, the Academy Award winning author whose book Shoeless Joe was adapted into the film, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. Sadly, Kinsella passed away a week after the book was published.

A book that could change the world, if only the world listens with its heart

"In a world where media relentlessly enflames fear and hatred, here is a quiet voice espousing love and peace."  Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"Smelcer reminds us that we are called to be bearers of love, for there can be no faith without love." Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of New York

"Smelcer gives us a Jesus who condemns...anyone who fosters injustice and inequality...and incites hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and violence." Coretta Scott King

"A book that reminds us again and again of Jesus's gospel of love."
 Saul Bellow, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

"A masterpiece capable of changing the world."  W. P. Kinsella (Field of Dreams)

"An ambitious re-imagining of the most familiar story in history."  Chayym Zeldis

"Until now we only thought we knew this story." Fr. Daniel Berrigan

A daring & imaginative retelling of "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

“Smelcer gives us a Jesus who condemns those who abuse the name of God to gain wealth or power, as well as anyone who fosters injustice and inequality, oppresses or enslaves others, and incites hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and violence.”
Coretta Scott King

"If only this book's universal message of peace and non-violence could prevail in every culture and reshape political and economic systems towards a world of generosity, compassion, and joyous celebration of our endangered planet."
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Ed. Tikkun and author of The Left Hand of God

"Smelcer...reveals new dimensions in the Christian story."  Bishop John Shelby Spong

“Like the original gospel writers, Smelcer uses the tale of Jesus to inspire. His challenge was to find a way into a story whose familiarity has made Christianity stale, judgmental, and dogmatic. He does so with brilliance and imagination, breathing new life into a faith that has forgotten simply to love.” Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ

"My friend Thomas Merton would have loved this elegantly simple, poetic, yet profound book."  (formerly Sister) Helen Marie Grimes

"Some stories can change our lives. Some stories can change the world. This story can do both."   Ann McGovern, author of the children's classic, Stone Soup

"This book is storytelling at its best, and it can apply to all faiths and spiritual teachings. The book’s simple and eloquent prose invites the reader to read it deeply with an open mind and heart...For me as a social justice activist and scholar, what moved me the most is Smelcer’s emphasis, with much simplicity, on how our spirituality or faith can be a force for justice in the world. The Gospel of Simon is a spiritual gift, and I am grateful to John Smelcer for writing it. It is a book that I will keep in my spiritual activist toolbox and refer to as a resource whenever I am confronted by moments of spiritual weaknesses in my daily work for justice."  Tikkun Magazine

"You, like me, might find this book hard to put down and will be tempted to quickly read its 150 pages. But I'm guessing you'll want to return to it time and again to tease out more truths. This type of book is overdue in Christian literature, and presents a life-changing narrative for those who have lost their faith, for those who are disgusted with the religious attitudes of some, or those looking for an encounter with something or someone greater than themselves...I can imagine it having a significant impact on spiritual thinking."  Chris Thompson, Alaska Dispatch News

"From an obscure passage in the Bible when a Roman soldier plucks a curious observer from a straining crowd lining the road to Golgotha and directs him to share the burden of an exhausted Christ by helping him carry his cross the final distance to his crucifixion, author John Smelcer generates a contrapuntal dialog as witness to the untold story of Simon. Simon, who became a believer. Simon, whose sons and grandsons through generations would protect and defend the truths and proofs inherent in their story . . . Smelcer’s tale does not come across as sermonizing, but as an internal dialog wherein he finds himself asking and answering — without being disingenuous — the same questions even the most devout will ask of themselves. In The Gospel of Simon, Smelcer explores the deplorable. In showing us a man who answered the call, he also shows us there is a righteous, if not religious, path forward, if only we allow ourselves to take it.  Mike Foldes, Ragazine

Click here to read an interview about the book in the Ithaca Times

Summer 2015

In the summer of 1980, Brothers Sebastian and James Savage climb one of Alaska's highest mountains to prove to their demeaning father that they are worthy of his love and respect. Inspired by true events, Savage Mountain is not a story of father-son reconciliation. Some relationships can never be mended. Instead, it's a touching story of two brothers who save each others' life time and again, only to discover that brotherhood is the strongest bond of all. Affecting and unforgettable. The novel has been adapted into a screenplay for a motion picture.

Listed by the American Library Association's YALSA as one of the best survival stories of courage in harrowing conditions alongside such books as Into Thin Air, Hatchet, Unbroken, and A Perfect Storm.

Official Selection for the 2016 True Story Screenplay Awards

"Realistic, exotic, suspenseful, and exciting. Extreme adventure and a strong brotherly relationship."  School Library Journal

"John Smelcer is a writer's writer. Smelcer crafts a breathtaking Alaskan adventure story of struggle and determined will."   Bookwatch

"Smelcer tells the truth: the world's challenges turn out to be gateways to inner challenges. Captivating." Appalachia, America's oldest journal of mountaineering

Named by LinkCat as one of the "Don't Miss!" fiction books for August 2015

Click here to read an excerpt

THE BACK STORY: In the mid-1970s, I was sent to climbing and outdoor survival camps in the northern Cascades and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My brother and I learned to climb together when our father, then commanding officer of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks' Army ROTC program, would take us along on training exercises with the college cadets. From the ages of 14 and 12, we were trained at the U.S. Army Black Rapids Mountaineering School. Through junior high, high school, and my first year at UAF, we went back every year for training, including climbing glaciers. I became an avid climber for the rest of my life. The actual summit of Mt. Sanford took place in 1983, when we were both out of high school. (photo of John Smelcer c. 1992)

Over the years, my brother and I climbed many of Alaska's mountains
(photo by James Smelcer)

The motorcycle scene from the book (the author is on right).

Released March 2016

Thirty-five traditional myths from the Ahtna People of Alaska collected over three decades by the editor. All royalties are donated to the Ahtna Heritage Foundation scholarship program.

"The Ahtna People give us this gift of an ancient, totally present, real world where we walk with archetypal fox, rabbit, porcupine, camprobber, bear...through the imagination we human beings (and maybe all the other critters too!) all share."   Gary Snyder

"Fortunately for the Ahtna Indians of Alaska who are losing their language and traditions, there is John Smelcer, a devoted folklorist and member of the tribe, who has collected and edited these fabulous Raven myths. Beautifully recorded and translated, these trickster tales are related to the thousands of Raven tales in North America, and it is to Smelcer's credit that he draws parallels to them while bringing out their particular value to Ahtna cultural history. Thanks to his scrupulous and meticulous research, the Ahtna tales will not be forgotten as long as people continue to read and recite them and are interested in the history of Native North American tribes. In this respect, Smelcer's book deserves to be celebrated."

--Jack Zipes,(Ed.) The Oxford Companion to the fairy Tale, The Compete fairy Tales of the Brother's Grimm, The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature


The expanded, 25th anniversary second edition of the bestselling collection of Alaska Native myths in history is finally available and features a new foreword, introduction, and 26 new stories. Stories in this book have been adapted for television and cinema, and the book has been translated into numerous world languages. Order it online at Amazon or at Barnes & Noble and for the first time ever as an eBook (Kindle, etc)

"John Smelcer is gaining a reputation as one of our best folklorists."
--Alan Dundes

"John Smelcer's writing is a celebration of the diversity of cultures. Undeniably important."  --James Michener, ALASKA


Named One of the Ten Best YA Novels of 2014

Spotlighted by the American Library Association (YALSA)

"An astonishing story of survival with more psychological depth than     Robison Crusoe"   --Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes)

"Smelcer is the modern day Jack London." --W.P. Kinsella (Field of Dreams)

"A spare tale of courage, love, and terrible obstacles."  --Wall Street Journal

"Brilliant. An example of authentic Native storytelling at its best. Not to be missed."  --School Library Journal

"A survival story with a strong heart." --ForeWord Reviews

"A thought-provoking and moving coming-of-age story."  --Publisher's Weekly

"Edge of Nowhere is as much bildungsroman as survival story. Thoughtful and often lyrical."   --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Smelcer just keeps getting better."   --Rosebud Book Reviews

"Purely & simply, Smelcer is one of the best writers in America." --goodreads

"Beautifully written. I love everything about this book!"   --Cafe Libri

"John Smelcer is a rock star of Alaskan literature."   --Mushing Magazine

"By way of remarkably poetic storytelling, Smelcer draws a flawless parallel between the unrelenting strength of nature and the indefatigable determination of the human spirit. Edge of Nowhere is a gripping literary triumph for Smelcer, transcending gender and generations."   --Midwest Book Reviews Reviewer's Choice

Taught in UK schools with Bear Grylls' Gold of the Gods

Alaska Battle of the Books for 2014-2015

American Bookseller's Association 2014 ABC Best Books for Children & Teens

Sixteen-year-old Seth Evanoff and his dog, Tucker, are swept off his father's fishing boat during a storm in Prince William Sound, Alaska. For months, the shipwrecked teen and his dog island-hop their way across the Sound on their journey home. All the while, Seth's father never gives up hope. Edge of Nowhere is much more than an adventure-survival novel. It's also a story about reconciliation, a father's love for his son, about heritage, and about struggling to overcome grief. Throughout the book is the message is that we all need to unplug ourselves occasionally from technology and media, especially young people. Adapted from a true story (see book's origin below).

Book's Origin: My brother and I were always hunting and fishing together. It’s the only time we ever really got along. During the long Labor Day weekend of 1986, we set out to hunt deer and black bear in Prince William Sound. We started out from Whittier, using my small, green jon boat with a ten horse power outboard motor. When rough weather set in, we tried to land on an island, but the piling waves swamped the boat, which sank to the bottom with all our gear, including our rifles. Wet and cold, we were marooned for five days. Our matches were ruined. We had no fire, but we had our hunting knives. We ate raw things from the sea and ripe berries. We caught and ate raw a few salmon. Finally, some other hunters came along in a boat and took us back to the harbor. Edge of Nowhere is loosely based on that experience. I added a golden retriever named Tucker, based on a friend’s beloved dog.

"Edge of Nowhere is not just for teens. It's a great adventure story for all readers. From the first page to the last, it's hard to put this book down."                   --Diane Burger, Librarian, Adair County Public Library

A perfect companion to Robinson Crusoe, Into the Wild, Hatchet,            and Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Reviews and awards in the United Kingdom

"A great story; a nail-biting tale of triumph. I only cried once."  --The Bookbag (UK)

"A hard-edged adventure story."  --The Guardian (UK)

"A book ready to challenge the supposed superiority of Robinson Crusoe in the adventure genre, boasting considerably more psychological edge and an equally thrilling story line." 
   --Radiowaves (UK)

"A powerful novel that grips you tight and doesn't let go."   --The Bookseller (UK)

Listed as one of the "Best Books for 2010"   --The Independent (UK)

"This is a tale of triumph over adversity, a boy's determination to survive and a father who never gives up hope. A powerful and exciting novel.  --The Harbour Bookstore (UK)

England Book Trust's Young Reader's Recommended Book List

Scottish Book Trust's Young Reader's Recommend Book List

Irish Book Trust Young Reader's Recommended Book List

Selected Book, Young Teen Fiction Award (UK)

Short-listed for the 2011 Hull Award for Children's Literature (UK) 


"A beautiful and moving story of courage and love."  Ray Bradbury

American Library Association's 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project List

Finalist, 2014 Housatonic Book Award for YA Literature

Book's Origin and Themes: I am the father of two daughters, born almost a quarter of a century apart. There's not really a lot of adventure novels depicting the courage, determination, and inner strength in teenage girls. I've mushed dogs occasionally in Talkeetna, Alaska and I applied that personal experience in the book.

As someone who is part of two cultures, it was only natural for me to write this very autobiographical novel, which I dedicate to my daughters. I have lived in Alaskan villages and I am a voting member of a village council. The social problems depicted in the novel are real and disconcerting, but the message of the book is one of hope and healing and triumph. Social problems can never be improved until they are unflinchingly acknowledged.

Disbelievers of Taz, the Wolf: If you doubt that a wild wolf would befriend a human and associate so closely with dogs (i.e. be Denny's lead sled dog and friend), you need to learn more about Romeo, the 150 pound wild, black wolf who lived around Juneau, Alaska. For years, Romeo "played" with dogs who came to visit him near the Mendenhall Glacier while amazed pet-owners watched from nearby. Romeo even allowed some people to touch him. To learn more about Romeo Google: "Romeo Wolf in Juneau" and check out the photos below.

Facial tattoos, especially chin tattoos, were once commonplace among Alaska Natives. Some proud and daring younger Native women, like Amy Topkok (Inupiaq Eskimo) at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics are getting chin tattoos like Denny's. (photo used with permission)

             The original cover design concept

Click here to read the original first chapter of the novel

     (includes Questions For Discussion)

Click here to learn more about this amazing book.

Click here to watch a YouTube video about the book.


"John Smelcer is a rockstar of Alaskan literature. With this inspiring book, he has further solidified his status as Alaska's modern day Jack London. [Smelcer]gets the mushing details . . . spot-on. Full of life lessons readers will want to dog-ear for their own memory. An inspiring and hopeful story."   

--Mushing Magazine

"Smelcer weaves an engaging tale of survival, love, and courage."                   School Library Journal

"Powerful, eloquent and fascinating, showcasing a vanishing way of life in rich detail." Kirkus Reviews*

          *Kirkus recommends Lone Wolves to people who loved Gary Paulsen's Woodsong.

"One of the greatest adventure books...especially for young women. In the essence of Call of the Wild, Balto, and White Fang, Smelcer has written a book that will remain close to the heart."     --The Book Nook for YA Readers

“This sobering novel centers on an Alaskan community surrounded by natural beauty but plagued by social and psychological dysfunction. Sixteen-year-old Deneena "Denny" Yazzie connects with nature in a way she doesn't with her classmates. Her mixed Native and white heritage leaves her feeling uncertain about her identity, while the wound left by her alcoholic father's abandonment is still raw . . . The Alaskan setting provides a haunting backdrop.”   --Publisher's Weekly

“Smelcer’s work has a touch of the classical, combining good old-fashioned adventure and survival themes with heart-tugging moments of clarity and poignancy that recall Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves."  Booklist

"Smelcer ambitiously juggles several themes, mainly tradition versus modernity and the importance of preserving one’s cultural heritage. Smelcer puts great care and detail into his depiction of traditional customs and daily activities as well as the current issues that plague the young people of these isolated communities. Any momentary concerns were quickly brushed away by Smelcer’s adept focus on Denny’s coming of age and the illuminating glimpse of Native Alaskan cultures."  --The Horn Book

"A refreshing read with a charming and youthfully mature protagonist, Lone Wolves is a compassionate and inspiring tale which highlights the importance of family, community, and heritage."   --Midwest Book Review

"Breathlessly paced and a thrilling ride for readers of all ages. John Smelcer is a gifted storyteller with a unique perspective that draws from Native myths, anthropology, languages, as well as classic adventure tales."

--Cambridge Book Review

" epic in the Alaskan wilderness."   --ALA Amelia Bloomer Project

"Smelcer truly knows Interior Alaska, which he describes with spare elegance."

--Daily Sitka Sentinal

Winner of the international 2012 Leap Frog Press Children's Fiction Award   for middle/high school literature

Listed by the Juneau Empire as one of the best books about Alaska in 2013

If you love Lone Wolves read John Smelcer's The Great Death

A perfect companion to The Call of the Wild and Julie of the Wolves

New in Spring of 2013!

One of the "Hottest Graphic Novels of 2013" --Graphic Novel Reporter

"Native American Classics is a very rewarding book that features many fine Native writers and artists. An excellent anthology that shows the state of the art in Native American art and literature."  --Indian Country

"The most beautiful collection of Native American myths, stories, and illustrated poems ever collected in sequential art form."   --Comic Book Bin

“It’s especially important for non-indigenous people to hear these stories . . . as a counter-balance to the version of history we hear most often. These stories are painful to read, because they reveal a deeper wound than simply the appropriation of land. They’re about the theft of religion and culture – souls, really… I couldn’t forget that these were stories that European invaders tried to suppress and destroy. That they weren’t destroyed is the triumph of the book.” --School Library Journal

"Native American Classics is a fine plunge into a culture that's been shamefully underrepresented in the format [graphic illustration]. Much care has been taken to match the appropriate art style to each adaptation. Each story slips gracefully into its visuals."     --Booklist

"Ambitious. Among the finest productions in cartooning arts these days."  --GoComics

"A book to treasure and place in the hands of the young."  --Rain Taxi

"A strong and illuminating book."  --blogcritics

"Graphic Classics has proven time and again that it has the goods."  --Comics Waiting Room

"Once again Graphic Classics demonstrates the art of comics adaptation with its new collection, Native American Classics. Pulling from a rich tradition of fiction, poetry, and oral narrative, and illustrated by a who’s who of Native American creators, this twenty-fourth volume of the series sets the standard for comics and its engagement with American ethnic identity." --Comics Alternative

Now available (March 2013)!  A one of a kind graphic anthology of 19th and early 20th century Native American literature (poems, stories, and oral narratives) co-edited by John Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by many of the nation's best Native American  graphic artists. Highly acclaimed! To read reviews or order copies click on:  or


American/Canadian Book Jacket (left)                     UK Book Jacket (right)

Book's Origin: When my full-blood Indian grandmother was a little girl, a worldwide pandemic reached Alaska, killing an estimated sixty to seventy percent of the Alaska Native population. No village was spared. It was the tragic end of an ancient way of life. Natives still refer to that period as The Great Death. My grandmother, Mary Joe-Smelcer, and her older sister, Morrie Secondchief—daughters of Tazlina Joe—were born in Tazlina Lake Village, which was infected by the plague and abandoned. I have been there. Nothing remains. Hunters have long since hauled away the cabin logs to burn in campfires. Even today, elders forbid visiting the old, abandoned villages for fear of disturbing the spirits. Throughout the 1990s, I met frequently with both sisters, who eagerly told me their stories, asking me to record them and to share them with the world. I had always planned to write this inspiring story, but regretfully, I didn’t turn to writing novels until after both their deaths. Published worldwide, The Great Death is based on their stories. The Indian words used throughout the novel come from the Ahtna language, of which the author, one of the last speakers on earth, is the editor of the dictionary. Morrie and her husband Joe used to teach John their unique dialect of the language. While The Great Death and The Trap are marketed as young adult literature, they appeal to all ages. A perfect companion to Two Old Women, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Rabbit-Proof Fence.

To learn more about The Great Death and other epidemics in Alaska from the 1770s to the 1940s, read Harold Napolean's excellent book, Yuuyaraq.

To see a Google Earth map of the geograpic region, click here>

To read a newspaper article about epidemics in Alaska (in 1900) click here>

NPR interviewed John Smelcer about The Great Death. After the interview, Dr. Tom Nighswander, MD, an epidemiologist at Alaska's WWAMI Medical School, discussed the plague that killed so many Alaska Natives.

Buy Now (Also available for Amazon's Kindle Reader!)

Listed on the National Book Trust (England)

Listed with The Incredible Journey as one of the great adventure stories in The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature (foreword by Gregory Maguire, Wicked)

Short-listed for the 2011 William Allen White Book Award for Children's Literature

Winner, 2010 Mind the Gap Awards for "Best Sisters" [in literature]

What others are saying about the book:

"The Great Death is an amazing story! I couldn't put it down."
   -- Frank McCourt, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Angela's Ashes

"A gripping and poignant story, made even more so because of its basis on historical fact. Smelcer's prose is clean and rich; original yet unpretentious." --Horn Book (starred review)

"An extraordinary story. A small miracle."  --Tony Hillerman

"A prose style by turns informative, poetic, and graphic . . . An engaging tale of survival."

   --Kirkus Reviews

"A classic survival story."  --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"A strong and powerful book . . . the kind I'm not used to having in my hands!"
   -- The Book on the Hill

"A must-read by an exciting new novelist. Definitely one to watch!"
   -- Bookseller's Choice (UK)

". . . bound to become one of Alaska's most beloved books." --U.S. Senator Ted Stevens

"John Smelcer's gripping The Great Death is an epic journey."  --The Independent (England)

"The Great Death ... is a celebration of the human spirit."  --The Daily Mail (UK)

"The Great Death is an outstanding piece of writing and undoubtedly my favorite novel of the year."  --The Bookseller (UK)

"The Great Death is part history and part survival guide. It graphically illustrates the effects of a plague on isolated peoples."   --School Library Journal

John Smelcer's most acclaimed novel, 

bound to become a classic!

Book's Origin: "For over twenty years, I hunted moose and caribou with my half-blood Indian uncle, Herbert Smelcer, who was an important leader in our tribe and in Alaska Native politics. Herb was like a father to me. As president of Ahtna Native Corporation, he signed landmark legislation with President Jimmy Carter. During a winter caribou hunt at twenty degrees below zero, Herb and I split up on our snowmobiles to cover more country. We agreed to meet at a certain place hours later. When Herb didn’t show up, I went looking for him. I found him standing beneath a tree at the top of a hill, his snowmobile about thirty feet away. His foot was caught in a wolf trap, bolted to the tree by a short chain, which had been concealed beneath the snow. He couldn’t escape by himself. It took my help to open the steel jaws. And although my uncle was unharmed, the idea for The Trap was born." Herb died before the novel was published, but he read the entire manuscript, loving every word.


The Trap is the best novel we've ever received in the history of the James Jones Prize."
   --Dave Nightingale, president of the James Jones Literary Society

“Readers will be clinging to the pages of this graceful and haunting story. A small masterpiece.”
 --Kirkus Review

"The Trap is the most haunting and best written book this year."  --Carousel (UK)

“An unforgettable story. Brilliant!” --Ray Bradbury

"A lovely story, beautifully told."  --Winston Groom (author of Forrest Gump)

"The Trap is a remarkable book...written in beautiful language."  --School Librarian (UK)

The Trap is a gripping example of talented storytelling.” --Tony Hillerman

"Masterfully written, and the underlying meaning is one to contemplate."  --Helium

American Library Association BBYA Top Ten Pick

VOYA Top Shelf Selection

New York Public Library Notable Book

United Kingdom Book Trust

Scottish National Book Trust

Irish National Book Trust

Listed in 101 Young Adult Novels for English-Language Classes around the World (Helbling Publishing, 2014)

Listed as a Recommended Novel in Get Those Guys Reading! Fiction That Boys Will Love (K. Baxter & M. Kachel, Editors, May 2012) and called "a riveting, scary read."

"Listed in Canada as a Recommended Novel for schools alongside such classics as Frankenstein, All Quiet on the Western Front, Brave New World, and Jane Eyre."

Listed in Reid's Read-Alouds as a recommended book for young readers (American Library Association, 2009)

Nominee: 2009 South Carolina Junior Book Awards

Selected Book for 'Battle of the Books", Anchorage School District 2009 and 2014

Buy Now
Barnes & Noble

Gold medal winner for the best short story collection

2011 International eLit Book Awards

Written over a quarter of a century, these two dozen stories embody the spirit of Alaska. There are stories about freezing to death at -60F, about bear and wolf attacks, about mammoths and shamans, about the harsh reality of Alaska's rugged wilderness, about the collision of cultures, about despair and triumph, and even a story about a failed 19th century polar expedition. Now in a second edition with a new cover design.

Click here to read one of the stories from the award winning collection.


"John Smelcer's story "The Bear" reminds me of Jack London's classic "To Build a Fire." 
 --X. J. Kennedy (Editor) LITERATURE, Introduction to Short Stories, Introduction to Poetry, The Bedford Reader

“John Smelcer is Alaska’s modern day Jack London.” --W.P. Kinsella (Field of Dreams)

“A celebration of the diversity of cultures. Undeniably important!”
-- James Michener, author of ALASKA

"An indispensible contribution to Alaskan literature." --J. D. Salinger

"A recommended book." --Small Press Distribution

“This writer speaks from the land, and for the land, and the people who belong to it.”
-- Ursula K. Le Guin

“John Smelcer is an Alaskan literary treasure.”--Jay Hammond, former governor of Alaska

“One of our best writers. Few people can afford not to have his writing in their library.”
-- Denise Levertov

“A compelling voice, unforgettable and highly recommended.” --Library Bookwatch

“What impresses me most about John Smelcer is his indomitable spirit.”
-- James Welch, winner of the National Book Award

“A talented storyteller.” --Tony Hillerman

Buy Now:


"Few American poets carry such a heavy cultural burden."
   -- Carl Sagan (from the foreword)

Buy Now at


Beautiful Words

"Rescuing a language that faces oblivion is always a remarkable achievement. We can only hope that such achievement will inspire others to follow in the same path."
     -- Noam Chomsky

"Smelcer's poems and his two dictionaries of endangered Alaska native languages are a priceless gift to posterity."

      -- Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct

Archived in Harvard University's Widener Library's linguistic collection.

Available May 2011 from

Raven Speaks

"Raven Speaks has finally made it to America!"
   -- Originally published in England in 1997 by England's Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes

"It was inevitable that Hughes and Smelcer should meet. Crow -- meet Raven."
   -- Thom Gunn

"From the Far North comes Raven, jabbering news of this poet."
   -- Ted Hughes

Buy Now at

The Binghamton Poems

Book's Origin: John Smelcer's tenth book of poetry, The Binghamton Poems (102 pages), is a collection of poetry written from the fall of 2006 until spring 2009. The poems were personally selected and edited by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike, who co-judged the National Poetry Book award with Smelcer in the mid-1990s. American Book Award winner Maria Mazzioti Gillan provided the foreword.

"Some say poetry is cathartic. Reading these poems teaches us that poetry is necessary." John Updike

"John Smelcer gives us hope that poetry and its precise and symbolic language can save us."  Maria Gillan, winner of the American Book Award

Rosebud Magazine

Background: In the past 25 years, John has served as poetry editor, associate publisher, publisher, and as publisher/CEO of Rosebud magazine, one of the premiere literary magazines in America. The current issue includes poems by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, a story by W.P. Kinsella (author of Field of Dreams), and a recently-discovered unfinished poem by Jim Morrison of The Doors. The next issue, due out later this summer, includes poems by John Updike and Amiri Baraka, who celebrates his 75th birthday this fall. 

Here First
featuring John Smelcer's Essay -- "In The Past's Familiar Tongue"

From Library Journal: This anthology of 26 essays is a follow-up to I Tell You Now (1978). The authors, born mostly in the 1940s or after, come from many different tribes. Some are full blood, others mixed; some were raised on a reservation, others weren't; and some are well known, others obscure. They are professors, artists, poets, novelists, playwrights, social workers, and more. Arnold Krupat and Brian Swann assert that the essays reflect not only how many different ways there are to be Indian today but also how many different ways there are to write about these experiences. After a misanthropic description of American life, W.S. Penn admits, "The problem is that I don't really hate America. I hate the fact that what I want America to do is like me." Rex Lee Jim declares, "When I realized that everything matters, I immediately knew that my destiny was completely in my control." Vickie Sears calls writing "a wind" and a "moving in dreamdance." Like the previous anthology, this collection is a valuable contribution to Native American studies and literary scholarship.

From Booklist: Growing up Native American is unlike any other experience, although questions of identity and the struggle to find a place in the dominant culture resonate meaningfully to readers from all backgrounds. As Rex Lee Jim, one of the 26 contemporary Native American writers who contributed autobiographical essays to this striking collection, writes, "It's somewhat funny to know that the very personal is also the most common and therefore universal." Like many others, he focuses on the power of language, in his case, a Navajo prayer taught to him by his grandfather. Betty Louise Bell writes that as a child she "trusted words" to save her from the hardships of her poor, semiliterate family. Sherman Alexie's ironic and athletically graceful essay is the most dynamic, but each self-portrait compellingly discloses a unique facet of Native American life and of literature, which preserves memory, makes sense out of suffering, and renders revelations poetic.

Buy Now

(UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center, 2000)
Details: Selected and edited and with a foreword by Denise Levertov /Foreword to the bilingual poems by X. J. Kennedy. In the poems, some written in the Ahtna language and then rendered into memorable English, John Smelcer conveys a strong sense of his heritage, what poet Denise Levertov calls "his constant haunting awareness of indigenous life so grievously wounded yet still alive." Smelcer speaks from the Alaskan landscape, for the land, and for the people that belong to it. Smelcer has steeped himself and his poetry in his Ahtna traditions of language and ritual. As a result, his writing, with remarkable strength, succeeds in bridging his Native and English worlds. No library should be without this book.”

"John Smelcer is among the most brilliant younger poets in America."  Allen Ginsberg

From Library Bookwatch: Winner of the 2004 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Winner of the 2004 Western Writers of America Award for Poetry. Alaskan Native John Smelcer is the only living speaker, reader, and writer of his Native language (Ahtna).

"A compelling voice, unforgettable and highly recommended." L ibrary Bookwatch


Contains 20 Alaska Native Myths from southeast Alaska. Now in its 10th printing.

Buy Now


Background: Forty years after the largest tidal waves in history destroyed the tiny Alaska Native village of Chenega, the survivors talk about that tragic day. "The history of Alaska was incomplete before this book." -- Jay Hammond, former Alaska Governor. "This is an important and timely book." -- U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. "Must reading for every Alaskan."  -- The Anchorage Daily News. The introduction is the best and most comprehensive reference on the 1964 Alaska Earthquake in print.

Published in Australia in 1995

"These lyric poems are delicate webs of water, linking myth with the tenderness of the everyday." Joy Harjo

"Luminous, wonderfully well-wrought." Ralph Ellison, author of The Invisible Man

Edited by John Smelcer and D. L. Birchfield, Durable Breath (1994) included poets like Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, James Welch, Simon Ortiz, Linda Hogan, Diane Glancy, and many other contemporary Native American poets. Introduction by Duane Niatum

IN THE SHADOWS OF THE MOUNTAINS (cover, bottom right)
RIVERSONGS (cover, top right)
WE ARE THE LAND, WE ARE THE SEA (cover, bottom left)

Details: In the Shadows of Mountains includes every traditional myth still remembered in the Ahtna Athabaskan culture. Pulitzer Prize winner and original Beat Poet, Gary Snyder, generously provided a foreword. Riversongs is a collection of poems, including a bilingual section featuring a foreword by Joseph Bruchac. We are the Land, We are the Sea is a collection of interviews with Alutiiq elders of Prince William Sound, Alaska, which examines the relationship between subsistence and culture, and includes candid discussions about the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The original The Ahtna Noun Dictionary and Pronunciation Guide (1998).