On Black Elk, John Neihardt, and the Book They Wrote Together
From the Writ Large Podcast
Writ Large is a Lyceum original podcast about the books that changed the world. In each episode, host Zachary Davis interviews one of the world’s leading scholars about one book that shaped the world we live in—whether you’ve heard of it or not. These conversations look beyond plot summaries to unpack a book’s context, creation, and initial impact, and reveal its lasting influence on the ideas of today.
In many ways, Black Elk and John Neihardt lived very different lives. Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota holy man. Neihardt was a European-American literary critic. Black Elk performed for Queen Victoria with Buffalo Bills’s Wild West Show. Neihardt was Poet Laureate of Nebraska. But in other ways, they weren’t different at all. “By all accounts, they really, truly felt like they had a kind of spiritual affinity for one another,” says Harvard Professor Philip Deloria. In this episode, Professor Deloria discusses Black Elk Speaks, the book that Black Elk and Neihardt co-authored in 1932, which shaped the way both white and Native Americans at the time understood Native culture.
From the episode:
Philip Deloria: What has been really interesting, I think, about the book, is the ways that its resurgence in the late 1960s and 70s has really made it—this is the best selling book of all books authored by a Native person, and probably all books about Native people. It is the single book that has determined the ways that many, many people think about, about Native folks.
To listen to the rest of the episode, as well as the whole archive of Writ Large, subscribe and listen on Lyceum or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.
Philip Deloria is Professor of History at Harvard University. He is the author of several books, including Playing Indian and Indians in Unexpected Places. His most recent book is American Studies: A User’s Guide, co-authored with Alexander Olson.