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Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature [Paperback]

Keavy Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 30 2012 Contemporary Studies on the North
In an age where southern power-holders look north and see only vacant polar landscapes, isolated communities, and exploitable resources, it is important to note that the Inuit homeland encompasses extensive philosophical, political, and literary traditions. Stories in a New Skin is a seminal text that explores these Arctic literary traditions and, in the process, reveals a pathway into Inuit literary criticism. Author Keavy Martin considers writing, storytelling, and performance from a range of genres and historical periods – the classic stories and songs of Inuit oral traditions, life writing, oral histories, and contemporary fiction, poetry and film – and discusses the ways in which these texts constitute an autonomous literary tradition. She draws attention to the interconnection between language, form and context and illustrates the capacity of Inuit writers, singers and storytellers to instruct diverse audiences in the appreciation of Inuit texts. Although Eurowestern academic contexts and literary terminology are a relatively foreign presence in Inuit territory, Martin builds on the inherent adaptability and resilience of Inuit genres in order to foster greater southern awareness of a tradition whose audience has remained primarily northern.

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Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature + Unikkaaqtuat: An Introduction to Inuit Myths and Legends
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“One of the strengths of this book is its focus on the diversity, depth, and historic importance of Inuit literature and the advantages of studying this body of work as Inuit literature, rather than simply including a few examples of Inuit writing in the context of studying ‘Aboriginal’ or for that matter ‘Canadian’ literature.”—Sophie McCall, Simon Fraser University

"Martin has listened carefully to indigenous authors and critics who have for decades argued that their literature should be analyzed on its own terms, according to tribal and community perspectives and in keeping with indigenous knowledges. While Martin is not Inuit, she has gone to great lengths to visit the Far North, learn Inuktitut, and live for periods of time among the people. This lived experience, combined with her excellent literary theoretical and analytical skills, has produced this gorgeous book. In it Martin brings new perspectives to published and oral texts. As she argues, the most appropriate and sophisticated approach to Inuit stories is to recognize how both tradition and adaptation have shaped them." (Jury's Comments, 2012 Gabrielle Roy Prize (English Section))

“This book is a model for how to approach a culturally unfamiliar text and gives even a neophyte a way to start reading otherwise intimidating or obscure works.” (Robin McGrath)

"I, for one, emerged from the book with a sharper understanding of how a western (or southern) trained academic has found the language within Inuit intellectual culture to speak to a western/southern academic audience about Inuit art. Moreover, Martin enacts her reciprocal obligations in an ethical engagement to the (real, political) people of her scholarly work." (Allison K. Athens)

About the Author

Keavy Martin is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Inuit Have Known for a Very Long Time May 19 2013
Format:Paperback
This book is fascinating. It should be required reading for any academic “outsider” involved in the study of a culture or group of people. It is a solid academic work—no doubt—but as a layperson I was enthralled. It felt as if Dr. Keavy Martin lifted my eyes and revealed the top of the world to me.

The Inuit peoplehood spans almost an entire hemisphere and transcends the borders of four countries. Inuit stories tell of events farther back than my sense of human history had conceived. Before the ancestors of the modern-day Inuit arrived in the Canadian arctic, the Tunit people inhabited the area. According to Inuit stories, the Tunit were shy, and incredibly strong. The remains of their houses can still be seen today, boulders too massive to be maneuvered by human hands. One story tells of an Inuit ancestor who happened upon a Tunit village just raided by Vikings. The survivors were wild with terror and grief; their dead lay like seals. This story taught me that our empathy can reach back centuries, to mourn people I never knew existed.

The stories impart Inuit principals (“What Inuit have known for a very long time”), with an understanding that, if one listens carefully, the story may one day save your life. What is valued? Real, lived experience. Sila—knowledge of one’s environment. To live in a good way with the land and people. Relationship to land, family, inner spirit, and community. ADAPTATION.

The stories of the Inuit also tell the history of everyone around them—the Dene, Cree, the Whites and the animals. The stories trace the sweeping changes: epidemics from European encounters, the 1940’s fur trade collapse when the Inuit were forced into settlements, residential schools that tore families and traditions.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Inuit Have Known for a Very Long Time May 19 2013
By L. A. Kranz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is fascinating. It should be required reading for any academic "outsider" involved in the study of a culture or group of people. It is a solid academic work--no doubt--but as a layperson I was enthralled. It felt as if Dr. Keavy Martin lifted my eyes and revealed the top of the world to me.

The Inuit peoplehood spans almost an entire hemisphere and transcends the borders of four countries. Inuit stories tell of events farther back than my sense of human history had conceived. Before the ancestors of the modern-day Inuit arrived in the Canadian arctic, the Tunit people inhabited the area. According to Inuit stories, the Tunit were shy, and incredibly strong. The remains of their houses can still be seen today, boulders too massive to be maneuvered by human hands. One story tells of an Inuit ancestor who happened upon a Tunit village just raided by Vikings. The survivors were wild with terror and grief; their dead lay like seals. This story taught me that our empathy can reach back centuries, to mourn people I never knew existed.

The stories impart Inuit principals ("What Inuit have known for a very long time"), with an understanding that, if one listens carefully, the story may one day save your life. What is valued? Real, lived experience. Sila--knowledge of one's environment. To live in a good way with the land and people. Relationship to land, family, inner spirit, and community. ADAPTATION.

The stories of the Inuit also tell the history of everyone around them--the Dene, Cree, the Whites and the animals. The stories trace the sweeping changes: epidemics from European encounters, the 1940's fur trade collapse when the Inuit were forced into settlements, residential schools that tore families and traditions. But the storytelling never stopped, represented in contemporary writings and film. These stories remain vital to Inuit youth, have much to teach humans about survival, and sometimes contradict "southern experts".

Dr. Keavy Martin heard these stories, largely unknown by those around her, and wanted to honor them, give them their rightful place in the canon. In the process, she came to understand that the Inuit way of teaching and learning was very different from "southern" academic traditions. Instead of hammering questions, critiquing, endless deconstruction, Inuit approaches involve building relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, learning through observation and practice, speaking only from personal experience--not relying on books to support your case. And it's okay to admit if you don't know the answer.

These became guiding principles for Dr. Keavy Martin as she created curriculum and learning experiences for her students of Inuit literature. She also applied them to her personal life and professional practices. She had a PhD, but was "infantile in many skills of good living"--self sufficiency and the ability to read and make use of her environment. "Most importantly, it taught me the meaning of community, and the responsibilities that come with it."

Despite academic pressures, she chose to set aside ego and the myopic quest for tenure. She tried to freely share resources and help others--ideally without being asked, seek and speak from personal experience, and focus on what is at heart in the process of living, teaching and learning in a community. Community.

Dr. Keavy Martin strikes me as a rare and remarkable academic. She is funny, brilliant and a great writer. Her description of making--and unveiling--her first pair of seal skin mittens made me laugh out loud!

LA Kranz
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