Sneve Featured at Today’s Young Readers Festival
Note: South Dakota Humanities Council intern Anne Wempe interviewed four of our South Dakota Festival of Books authors to give fans an inside look at what makes these writers tick.
By Anna Wempe
Sitting down in the closet-sized Hampton Inn Business Center, I balance a cup of scalding hotel coffee in one hand and a pen and notepad in the other and look across at nationally-renowned author Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, a presenter at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings and Sioux Falls this week. She patiently answers my blurted-out questions about the bland details of publishing, children’s book vocabulary, and editors. When I bring up the South Dakota Festival of Books in a final attempt at an interview preamble, she smiles brilliantly and talks about how she has only missed one Festival. “I love it because I get to see people that I don’t get to see very often… I am very much looking forward to it.” When I ask how she inserts story into the histories and legends that she often writes, she finds no difficulty in reconciling the two. “I think of myself as a storyteller… I want to make history live and be interesting. My approach is always storytelling.”
Her story of stories began at her grandmother’s knee, listening “mesmerized” to her grandma continue the oral tradition. As with all lives, her career as storyteller and writer cannot only be traced to one memory. She recalls several pivotal moment that pushed her down the path. Her children’s lack of exposure to contemporary perspectives of Native American children, her grandmother’s insistence that she write her stories down to keep them correct and preserved, a contest sponsored by the Interracial Council of Minority Books for Children.
Sneve: ‘I Want to Make History Live and be Interesting’
For her greatest motivation for writing, she tells a story. “Most importantly, I wanted to tell that Indians are still here…Even in Rapid City, which has a very large Indian population, children asked me questions about ‘when Indians were alive.’ And there are Native American children in those very classrooms, their classmates! One little Indian girl announced that she was an Indian, and a little boy said, ‘No, you’re not,’ and she said, ‘Yes, I am’ and they argued until he asked, ‘Do you live in a teepee?’ That’s how he defined an Indian.”
We discuss how she writes in many different genres and how, through another contest, she wrote her memoir. Her original idea for the non-fiction contest sponsored by University of Nebraska press out of an absence of Native American non-fiction writers, showed the point of view of Native American women. She laughs at this, and proclaims the finished work “academic.” I glean that this storyteller couldn’t find the story in her idea. So she returned to what she wanted, to “show the point of view of Native American women that I knew and experienced. I started with my great-grandmothers, who I didn’t personally know, but I knew of their experiences. Then I set them into the context of recorded history.” When I ask what she loves most about stories, she pauses. “I guess my favorite part of stories is the entertainment. The thing that I would like to my stories to do would be, yes, to entertain. And also to enlighten. But I don’t think about that when I’m writing.” As we gather our purses, half-empty coffee cups, and books, she reiterates that she desires and will continue to tell enlightening and entertaining stories for as long as possible.
Sneve will be featured at the following dates and times during the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings and Sioux Falls, Sept. 25-27.
“I Am a Man: Standing Bear of the Poncas” Thursday 9/25; 10:00 AM; SD Children’s Museum – Classroom 201
“I Am a Man: Standing Bear of the Poncas”; Thursday 9/25; 12:30 PM; SD Children’s Museum – Classroom 201
“Storytelling”; Thursday 9/25; 2:30 PM; SD Children’s Museum – Café Coteau
“I Am a Man: Standing Bear of the Poncas”; Saturday 9/27; 11:00 AM; Washington Pavilion – Classrooms
“Native American Themes in Books for Young Readers”; Saturday 9/27; 2:00 PM; Siouxland Public Library – Mtg Room B