Beth Piatote strings together stories like the intricate strands of a handmade necklace. The Beadworkers gathers those strings together into an illustrious whole. Piatote, who is Nez Perce and an associate professor of Native American studies, has previously written both scholarly and creative works. She brings her expertise to the page with this collection, where individual pieces often defy genre labels.
The Beadworkers begins with a poem and a pair of short stories, “Feast” I, II and III. The collection concludes with a short, poetic play, “Antikone,” a reimaginging of the Greek tragedy “Antigone.” Piatote’s creativity shows up throughout the book, such as in “wIndin!” in which the protagonist creates a board game as political art. “Katydid” traces the experiences of two women: One moved to Oregon for a fresh start, while the other was adopted and longs to travel to Oklahoma to visit her birth father’s tribe. Piatote writes, “Hippies love to glorify the tribe, which is both amusing and irritating to me. If you’re going to go tribal, you can’t just take the good—the sharing, the ceremonies, the aunties, the rez cred—you got to go the whole way. You got to walk through the minefields. You got to take the pettiness, the jealousy, the physical abuse, the diabetes, the bigoted uncle, the family that hates your family since the missionaries arrived. If you’re a woman, you got to accept that your body is prime real estate, and if you don’t reproduce for the tribe, you’ve joined the occupation.”
The collected pieces of The Beadworkers explore place and identity in vibrant scenes. Throughout, Piatote reveals Native American life in contexts modern, historic and mythical.