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Touch My Tears

Anthology recounts Choctaw Removal stories

By LARISSA COPELAND
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

   Tears of sadness.

   Tears of joy.

   A new book, Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears, is an anthology of fictional and historic stories written by Choctaw storytellers and edited by Choctaw author Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer. It tells of the heartbreaking, yet hopeful stories of Choctaws on their removal on the Trail of Tears.

Fig 1

Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer and mother Lynda Kay Sawyer.

   "I chose the Removal because it's such a traumatic experience, a traumatic event, for the Choctaw history but there was also hope," says Sawyer, of Canton, Texas. "There are tons of misconceptions [about the Trail of Tears.] We just wanted to wrap all that up into stories and really emotionally involve readers who aren't familiar with the history. We want people involved emotionally with the stories of that time period so they can understand and take away the hope, the resilience and the faith of the Choctaw people."

   For Sawyer, the path leading to publication was long, yet rewarding. It began in 2012 when she was accepted into the Artist Leadership Program with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

   As part of the program, Sawyer traveled to Washington D.C. in late 2012 to research the Trail of Tears as well as attend artist training. In March 2013 she conducted a writing workshop in Durant for Choctaw authors as part of the program, which was met with a great response. It was a historical fiction writing workshop, Preserving Choctaw Removal Stories.

   "I was overwhelmed by the response from the Choctaw authors," she says, stating that more than 20 writers took part.

   Those attending the workshop were invited to be a part of the anthology by submitting their own Trail of Tears stories for publication. Seven of the 20 authors accepted the offer and their stories were included in the book.

Fig 3

Sawyer and the participants of the writing workshop she held in Durant in March 2013. 

   In addition to those who submitted their stories, Sawyer also included a story she personally had written, as well as obtained reprint right for the story Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery, written by Marilou Awiakta (Cherokee) and illustrated by Beverly Bringle(Choctaw).

   Also contributing was the winner of last year's Biskinik short story contest, Benjamin Zeller. "We were at the Five Tribes Storytelling Conference and when they mentioned what he had written was a Trail of Tears story a couple of other writers around me started nudging me.

   "I told [Zeller] we were almost finished with this project but that I still had time to slip in his story if he was interested and he said yes. We were all very excited about that. So all together we have 10 stories from 10 different Choctaw authors and illustrators.

   "I used as many Choctaws as possible," says Sawyer.

   Along with the stories, Sawyer also involved Choctaws in other aspects of the book's creation. "The primary illustrator, Leslie Widener, and my brother, Jon Sawyer, who modeled for the front cover" are both Choctaws, says Sawyer. Also Julie Cantrell, who is Choctaw and a New York Times best selling author, wrote the foreword on the book.

   "My whole purpose in this, and in all of my writing, is preserving history," explains Sawyer. "I have a desire to preserve it through fiction because it's in archives online and in Washington and in anthropological departments and all these things but it's not really accessible to the general public.

   "What I want is to get these stories out in an entertaining form but in a way that keeps the real history, not the stereotypical history that we've heard that come from history books read by kids and seen in Hollywood movies.

   "I want real stories but I do fictionalize to enhance the real stories while staying culturally and historically accurate but in a way that the general public enjoys reading them. That's one of the ways that I feel we can use to preserve our history, our legacy and our culture."

   The authors who contributed to Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears are Marilou Awiakta and Beverly Bringle, Dianna Street, James Masters, Ramona Choate Schrader, Francine Locke Bray, Leslie Widener, Curtis Pugh, Jerry Colby, Benjamin Zeller, Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer and Lynda Kay Sawyer. Leslie Widener was the primary illustrator.

   Sawyer says she recently sent the authors their copies and told them, with great thanks, "that their part is now finished and now I'll put it in as many readers' hands as I can. That's the goal for me."

   In addition to the authors, Sawyer is grateful for the assistance of the Choctaw Nation, which she says, "was a huge supporter from the start."

   She goes on to say Dr. Ian Thompson, director of the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department, was incredibly instrumental in her research. "He was a great asset," she says. "We just bombarded him with questions. He was amazing."

   Also, Sawyer would like to acknowledge Assistant Chief Gary Batton for his support and letter of recommendation to the NMAI, as well as Ryan Spring from Historic Preservation, Lillie Roberts from the School of Choctaw Language, and Choctaw artist and history aficionado Presley Byington for their involvement with checking for cultural and historical accuracy.

   "I really love all the work that the authors put into this. It wouldn't have happened without them and without the support of those in the Choctaw Nation."

   Sawyer also gives much credit to her mother, Lynda Kay Sawyer, for her vital role in the book project. "It would have never left the ground and be what it is without [her] support and wisdom," she says. "She encouraged me to apply for the NMAI program, went to [Washington] D.C. with me to help research the Removal, carried the heavy load in preparing for and operating the writing workshop, and helped tremendously with editing and researching for the book itself. She also took the stunning front cover photo of my brother."

   Sawyer will be donating a portion of all the sales of the book to the Choctaw Nation scholarship fund. "Donating to the scholarship fund is just something I wanted to do as a way to give back. We are also donating 20 copies to educational facilities."

   Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears is availabe online from major retailers including www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com, among others, in both print and eBook formats. Signed copies of the book are also now available from the Choctaw Store, both online at www.choctawstore.com, and in the store at the Choctaw Travel Information Center, located just south of Colbert on Highway 69/75.

   Upcoming book signings by Sawyer will be at the Artist Bazaar at the Choctaw Nation headquarters in Durant on May 5, and the Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk at Wheelock on May 17.

   For more information on Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears or to follow the work of Sawyer, visit her website at www.sarahelisabethwrites.com.

BISKINIK2014_04_original

This article and others came from the Choctaw Nation Biskinik. To see more history please refer to the following sites.
www.choctawnation.com
www.choctawnationculture.com

 

 

 

 
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