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Writer Gordon Lee Johnson Blends Modern Life with Cultural Tradition

Dec 5, 2018

Gordon Lee Johnson writes primarily to tell the stories of today’s California Indian, but he is also interested in addressing the universal human condition.


Featured in a recent Los Angeles Times article on California Native American artists and the struggle to preserve their culture in the modern world, Johnson says in the piece that he writes to reflect a sense of home to Native readers, and he hopes they feel more alive after reading his work.  

Gordon Lee Johnson, SAR 2017 Indigenous Writer in Residence.

The author of two books—Fast Cars and Frybread: Reports From the Rez and Bird Songs Don’t Life: Writings From the Rez—the Cahuilla and Cupeño novelist and essayist from the Pala reservation in northern San Diego County was the recipient of SAR’s Indigenous Writer in Residence Fellowship in 2017. The purpose of the fellowship is to advance the work of an indigenous writer by supporting an author’s exploration of new avenues of creativity.

A former news columnist and feature writer, Johnson left journalism 10 years ago to focus on fiction and is currently working on a mystery novel set on the rez. Yet even with his focus on modern Native life in California, Johnson hasn’t forgotten his traditions, cultural identity and the issue of who defines the Native American experience. He states in the Times article:

I’m a simple guy, but I think Native art is an expression of cultural sovereignty, which, in the biggest picture, is the ability of Native people to determine who they are. And it begs the question: What is Native art? I think it is an exploration of cultural identity. Read “How Native Americans in the Arts are preserving tradition in a changing world” online…

Also mentioned in the Times article is Eva Scott Fenyes, the grandmother of Leonora Curtain Paloheimo of the Paloheimo Foundation, which provides support for SAR’s ongoing programs.

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