DR. JOHN SMELCER'S BOOKS
Forthcoming in 2013
"A beautiful and moving story of courage and love." Ray Bradbury
My Alaska-themed multicultural adventure novel, Lone Wolves, won the international 2012 Leap Frog Press Children's Fiction Award for middle/high school literature. The novel is forthcoming in 2013. Go to www.leapfrogpress.com and click on contest to see the complete list of winners. (Dustcover blurb used with permission of Ray Bradbury's estate)
Book's Origin: 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. As someone who is part of two cultures, it was only natural for me to write this very autobiographical novel. I dedicated it to my daughters.
NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW
One of the "Hottest Graphic Novels of 2013" --Graphic Novel Reporter
"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
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 and order copies go to
The Great Death
American/Canadian Book Jacket (left)
British/United Kingdom 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.
Amazon.com (Also available for Amazon's Kindle Reader!)
Nominated for the BookTrust Prize (England), The National Book Award,
and the American Library Association's Award for American Indian YA Literature
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.
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)
"A prose style by turns informative, poetic, and graphic . . . An engaging tale of survival."
"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 (AK)
"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 favourite novel of the year."
-- The Bookseller (UK)
"A beautiful and poignant story. Stunning!"
-- Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Prize (on The Great Death)
"The Great Death is part history and part survival guide. It graphically illustrates the effects of a plague on isolated peoples."
-- School Library Journal
Available paperback in the USA, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand
The Edge of Nowhere
"More psychological depth than Robinson Crusoe." -- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes, 'Tis
". . . a stark and profound tale."
-- The Bookseller (UK)
"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 storyline."
-- 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)
"If you enjoyed reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, Edge of Nowhere is for you!"
--Greece Public Library Teen Blog
National Literary Trust's 2010 National Young Reader's Recommended Booklist
Selected Book, Young Teen Fiction Award (UK)
Short-listed for the 2011 Hull Award for Children's Literature (UK)
A year after his mother died in a car crash, 16-year-old Seth Evanoff and his dog, Tucker, fall off his father's commercial fishing boat during a storm in Prince William Sound, Alaska. An air and sea search comes up empty, and Seth is presumed drowned. For many months, the two castaways must endure hardships to survive off the land and the sea, as they work their way home from island to island. Edge of Nowhere is more than an adventure novel. It's also a story about reconciliation, a father's love for his son, about heritage, and about struggling to deal with grief. One poignant chapter is about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and its lingering effects on Prince William Sound.
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, staying close to shore. 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 on the island. 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. A perfect companion to Robinson Crusoe, Into the Wild, and Island of the Blue Dolphins.
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 manscript, 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
"The Trap is a remarkable book...written in simple and 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
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."
"Selected Book for 'Battle of the Books'"
-- Anchorage School District
NOW AVAILABLE: North America, Amsterdam and Brussels
"Gold medal winner for short story collections."
-- 2011 eLit International Book Awards
"John Smelcer's story "The Bear" reminds me of Jack London's classic tale "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, author of Field of Dreams
“A celebration of the diversity of cultures. Undeniably important!”
-- James Michener, 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
"Few American poets carry such a heavy cultural burden."
-- Carl Sagan (from the foreword)
Buy Now at http://splitoakpress.com
OTHER BOOKS ALREADY AVAILABLE
"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
To learn more about the translation process, click on
Available May 2011 from http://tsup.truman.edu
"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 http://splitoakpress.com
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
Background: In the past 15 years, John has served as poetry editor, associate publisher, publisher, and briefly 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.
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.
SONGS FROM AN OUTCAST
(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.”
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 surviving speaker, reader, and writer of his Native language, Ahtna.
Without Reservation is a collection of free-verse poetry by Alaskan Native American John E. Smelcer that emphasizes clear tone and vivid images that are simple, honest, and as-is. Smelcer is the only surviving speaker, reader, and writer of his native language of Ahtna, Without Reservation is a compelling voice, unforgettable and highly recommended.
"Without Reservation is a compelling voice, unforgettable and highly recommended." -- Library Bookwatch
A CYCLE OF MYTHS
Contains 20 Alaska Native Myths from southeast Alaska. Now in its 10th printing.
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.
THE RAVEN & THE TOTEM
"A celebration of the diversity of cultures. Undeniably important." -- James Michener
Background: Containing 60 Alaska Native myths with a foreword by Joseph Campbell. Now in its 15th printing, The Raven and the Totem is one of the best-selling Alaskana books of all time. Translated worldwide. One story was the basis of a segment of the Emmy Award winning television series, Northern Exposure. Another story was adapted for use in the blockbuster motion picture, Free Willy. Winner of ALASKA Magazine's Editor's Choice Award.
IN THE SHADOWS OF THE MOUNTAINS (cover, bottom right)
RIVERSONGS (cover, top right)
WE ARE THE LAND, WE ARE THE SEA (cover, bottom left)
THE AHTNA NOUN DICTIONARY AND PRONUNCIATION GUIDE (First Edition) (cover, top 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).