Joseph Bruchac - Author
Joseph Bruchac is a tribal storyteller and author of dozens of books including Skeleton Man, Bowman's Store, and A Boy Called Slow.
As a member of the Abenaki Indian tribe (located in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada), he is committed to writing books that accurately portray the stories of notable American Indians—from the Navajo Code Talkers to Olympian Jim Thorpe. Bruchac also enjoys retelling American Indian legends and tales that have been orally passed down within tribes for generations.
RIF: What is your Indian name?
Joseph Bruchac: Gahnehgohhiyoh (ga-neh-go-hi-yo), which means "the good mind." It was given to me by an Onondaga clan mother who is a good friend of mine.
RIF: You play the Indian flute. When and why did you learn to play this instrument?
JB: One day, Swift Eagle, a Pueblo storyteller and friend of mine, offered to teach me how to play the flute. It was easy for me to learn because I had played the clarinet as a kid.
I'm glad I can play the flute because I use it as a storyteller to represent the sound of birds.
RIF: In your autobiography, Bowman's Store, you write about how your grandfather hid your Abenaki heritage from you. After learning the truth as a teenager, why was it so important to you to connect to the tribe?
JB: I'm part Indian, that makes me part of what Indians are. Often in this country, people grow up not knowing about their heritage. We should all take pride in our culture because there's good and beauty in every culture.
RIF: Many American kids may have attended large family events like a family reunion, but never anything as large as a tribal gathering. What is it like to attend the annual Abenaki Heritage Days powwow in Vermont?
JB: It's kinda like going to a fair. Well over 1,000 people attend and you can hear the sounds of drums and people selling Abenaki wares.
For me, it's rewarding because I get to see people, especially young people, who have an awareness of who they are and are proud of their culture.
RIF: Your books have a lot to do with American Indian culture and history. Why did you begin writing children's books?
JB: My sons turned me into an author. When they were younger, I realized that there weren't a lot of positive children's books about American Indians. There's so many wonderful Indian tales and historical stories and I wanted to share them with kids around the world.
RIF: Tyler, age 10, wants to know why you decided to make the character Skeleton Man eat people in your book.
JB: That's the traditional story. The Skeleton Man is so greedy yet so lazy that he eats himself. He's an example of the importance of not being greedy or lazy.
RIF: You're both an author and an Abenaki storyteller. What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a good storyteller?
JB: Storytellers are people who share stories about the human experience. And they do it in such a way that it creates a circle in which they become part of the audience and the audience becomes part of the story.
Good storytellers share stories that not only entertain their audience but also teach a lesson about life, family, honor, etc.
RIF: What is one of the most memorable stories you've heard from a tribal storyteller?
JB: One story that I've heard a lot is about an orphan boy who is adopted by bears. To me, that's so beautiful: the idea that every child can find someone or something that cares for him, either in the human or the natural world.
RIF: What advice would you give to kids who want to be a storyteller?
JB: Listen. Listen to everyone and everything. Often people don't listen to hear the wind in the trees or stories told by their own family members. If you listen to the world around you, you will be able to tell genuine stories about nature and the human experience.