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Shandiin Largo ’23 presents collection of Indigenous literature

November 12, 2021

The Hawthorne-Longfellow Library presented the second BIPOC-curated collection of Library materials on Wednesday, November 10. Student curator Shandiin Largo ’23 presented the collection, while Librarian for the Humanities and Media Carmen Greenlee moderated a Q&A session following the presentation.

“I think the biggest thing with my collection is that I wanted to focus on Indigenous voices and Indigenous peoples [apart] from any other form of representation that Indigenous peoples have had in the past, which included anthologies and history books written by non-Indigenous people,” Largo said. “In doing so, I chose to focus on contemporary literature that focuses on indigenous peoples today instead of in the past.”

Largo also believes that her two years of research with the Russian department—on Indigenous literature in Siberia—has been highly influential in her curation of a diverse array of Indigenous works.

“[This research] really led me to see the differences and the similarities between my own culture and my own reservation and what people were going through on another continent,” Largo said. “I really focused on the idea of settler colonialism in terms of environmental degradation and in terms of the effects of loss of language and how settler states enforce that.”

For Largo, the experience of curating this collection has been gratifying both academically and on a personal level, as she learned about the growing availability of contemporary subject matter in Indigenous literature.

“I think the biggest surprise I saw was how much Indigenous literature has grown from the time when I was in high school to now, in terms of representations of different voices and different identities,” Largo said. “For example, here’s a book called ‘NDN Coping Mechanisms’ by Billy-Ray Belcourt, which focuses on LGBTQ+ identity, specifically two-spirit identity.”

Not only are these works by Indigenous people, but Largo argues that her collection of written media is also for Indigenous readers.

“I would say that a lot of the works focus on contemporary voices in terms of navigating higher educational spaces that don’t cater to Indigenous voices or cultures, and just the navigation between settler colonial states and maintaining traditional knowledge systems and living in a world that is not meant for me or other Indigenous peoples,” Largo said. “That’s represented through different mediums, like through graphic novels … which are more accessible to many more people.”

One of Largo’s favorite books from the collection is “House Made of Dawn” by N. Scott Momaday, which she believes brings beauty and color to her lived experience as an Indigenous person.

“I think it was the most transformational for me because it focused on my identity—it was so interesting seeing that my identity could be written so beautifully and to win … a Pulitzer Prize in Literature,” Largo said. “It was really empowering, honestly, that Native American literature could be recognized on that level.”

For this collection and per Largo’s recommendations, Hawthorne-Longfellow Library purchased over 70 new titles by Indigenous creators and thinkers.

“I’m sure you probably saw some gaping holes in our collection,” Greenlee said to Largo. “I thank you so much for helping to fill them.”

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