|Kathryn Konsonlas King.His father, a soldier and an alcoholic, was absent much of the time and
abandoned the family when King was five.
Four years later he sent word that he wanted to return, but he never did and is presumed dead.
King's mother raised King and his brother, Christopher, in a warehouse in Roseville that also housed
her beauty shop. King's mother kept her sons aware of their Cherokee heritage and took them on
trips to Oklahoma to visit their Aboriginal relatives. However, King has spent much of his life living in
Thomas King's work is characterized by his determined use of contemporary Native characters to
burst romantic stereotypes of Native Americans. His characters are complex; often they are outsiders
or are returning home after a long absence. He depicts a variety of Indians and Indian viewpoints,
avoiding the purist dichotomy that would define as inauthentic any Indian living in the city or in the
twentieth century. For King, holding such an outlook is as dangerous as believing in romantic
stereotypes about Indians.
Humor is one of King's chief tools. Any aspect of a story is open to his satiric touch, from names to
religion. King shies away from the label of comic writer, preferring to be seen as a serious author who
makes his points with irony and satire. Yet many of King's characters are in the process of defining
and remaking themselves, and such an optimistic task suits comic fiction. A participant in the activism
of the 1960s, King carries his political and historical awareness into a new kind of confrontation with
He wants to counter the defeatist and victimizing pictures of nineteenth-century Indians, but he also
wants to expose the social forces that have created so much repression and death. While he shares
this goal with many other Native writers, a distinctive strategy is King's use of popular white culture to
point up the limited perspective of that culture. For example, in the novel Green Grass, Running
Water (1993) some old Indians step into a John Wayne movie and change the ending so that the
Indians win. This action alternately confuses and inspires the other Indian characters, who then take
small steps toward breaking out of the victim roles assigned them. King carries on the ancient
storyteller's conviction that stories create the world, that all that people know about themselves comes
from their stories. This belief in the ability of narrative to create reality unites King with many other
King began to publish short fiction in 1987 in small magazines such as Whetstone and the Malahat
Review, but his stories were quickly selected for inclusion in anthologies. His first published story, "Joe
the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre," has been reprinted three times; Margaret Atwood calls it
and "One Good Story, That One" perfect, commenting on his exquisite timing, subversive humor, and
inventive narrative twists.
King's first novel, Medicine River (1990), is set in the fictional Alberta town of Medicine River, next to
the Blackfoot reservation. The protagonist is a mild-mannered, fortyish mixed-blood who has drifted
through life; with intentional irony, King names him Will. A successful commercial photographer who
lives with a white woman in Toronto, Will is not committed to his profession, his relationship, or
Perhaps his detachment stems from the absence of his father, who had abandoned his wife and two
sons to join the rodeo. When Will goes back to Medicine River for the funeral of his Blackfoot mother,
he assumes that no one will remember or care about him.
In Medicine River he falls into the clutches of Harlan Bigbear, a compassionate trickster who knows
what is best for everyone. But Harlan is no mere busybody: his humor, empathy, and belief in the
bonds of community and kinship allow him to penetrate to the heart of people's real needs. Harlan
decides to bring Will back to Medicine River permanently.
He tries to persuade Will to set up a studio in town so that the Indians will not have to go to whites for
their portrait photographs. Harlan is also convinced that Will is the perfect match for Louise
Heavyman, a competent businesswoman who has no desire to get married but wants to have a child.
Harlan tricks Will into a closer connection to the community by getting him to join the Native Friendship
Centre's basketball team. Then he involves Will in a moneymaking scheme to shoot photographs for
the center's calendar.
An important turning point for Will is the birth of Louise's daughter: when Will arrives at the hospital,
the staff mistakes him for the father and asks him what the girl's name is to be; he looks above their
heads, sees a sign, and immediately names her South Wing. While this parody of Indian naming
traditions delights the reader, it also cements an intimate connection between Will and the child as
well as between Will and Louise: he has become a father, if only a surrogate one. At this point Will
decides to stay in Medicine River.
Photography is, emotionally, the perfect occupation for Will: he can remain out of the picture,
observant and detached. But when he tries to take a portrait of Joyce Blue Horn's family, everyone is
crowded into the photograph -- including Will, who now knows that he belongs in the community.
King's subtle efforts to counter stereotypes generate much of the humor in the book.
Gone are the nineteenth-century clichés about Indians not wanting to have their photographs taken.
King's modern Indians may be successful photographers and accountants, or they may be traveling in
Australia. Certainly there are those who are disadvantaged and cannot stay out of jail, but his Indian
characters are capable and human -- not alienated Natives wrapped up in victimist history.
Part of the appeal of Medicine River comes from its interweaving into the main action of many
humorous, touching, maddening, and sad stories of the Native community of Medicine River --
especially the stories that Will's mother told and did not tell her children. As Will is pulled back into the
community, the reader cannot help but follow.
The book won the best novel award from the Writers' Guild of Alberta and the P.E.N./Josephine Miles
Award, and it was a runner-up for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize. King adapted the novel for a
1993 CBC television movie starring Graham Greene.
The title of King's second novel, Green Grass, Running Water , is a reference to the language found
in many treaties, which promised the Indians that the land would be theirs "as long as the grass is
green and the water runs."
The work, which was on the short list for the Governor General's Award, builds on the strengths of
King's first novel: the interweaving of several story lines, the humor, the political insights, and the
emphasis on contemporary and accomplished Native characters are continued, but here they take a
more experimental form. The novel is full of puns, humorous reversals of history, and satire of the
images of Indians created by European Americans. Three narratives that are separate at the
beginning of the novel are slowly woven together until the mythic and realistic worlds unite. First the
narrator and a talking coyote discuss storytelling and creation myths. Mixing creation stories from the
Blackfoot, the Iroquois, the Ojibwa, and the Navajo, King robs the Christian account of its cultural
hegemony but does not set up any account as the official one. As the narrator says, "There are no
truths, Coyote. Only stories."
Creation stories are told repeatedly throughout the text, and each is altered by characters who seem
to be out of the control of the storyteller. Often the story must start again. "How many times do we
have to do this?" asks Coyote. "Until we get it right," replies the narrator. The first and last lines of the
novel are identical, and the same words are frequently repeated in the text: "And here's how it
happened." King thus shows that the invention of stories by which people define themselves is a
The second narrative level consists of the stories of contemporary Blackfoot people in the town of
Blossom, Alberta, near the Blackfoot reservation. Professor Alberta Frank wants to have a child but
does not want to marry either of her suitors, Lionel Red Dog and Charlie Looking Bear. Eli Stands
Alone, a retired literature professor, has taken up residence in his mother's cabin and is holding up a
dam project with a steady stream of legal briefs.
Latisha Red Dog tries to make a success of her Dead Dog Café by selling tourists dishes such as Old
Agency Puppy Stew and Saint Bernard Swiss Melts. Working their way between the other two levels
are four old Indians who have escaped from an insane asylum and who call themselves Ishmael,
Hawkeye, Robinson Crusoe, and the Lone Ranger. While present in Blossom, they also show up in
the mythic narrative, where they argue about storytelling and wander through time. All of the stories
converge on the Blackfoot Sun Dance and the dam project.
King's other works include a children's book, A Coyote Columbus Story (1992), and a collection of
short fiction, One Good Story, That One (1993). The Native in Literature (1987), edited by King, Hoy,
and Cheryl Calver, is a collection of papers presented at a conference held in Lethbridge.
While King is not yet as well known as some other Native American writers, his work is receiving ever-
widening notice. His writing becomes more innovative and entertaining with each publication, and he is
destined to become an important figure in contemporary American and Canadian literature.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
• Medicine River (Markham, Ont.: Viking, 1990).
• A Coyote Columbus Story (Toronto: Groundwood Books, 1992).
• One Good Story, That One (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993).
• Green Grass, Running Water (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993).
• Coyote Sings to the Moon (Toronto: Key Porter, 1998).
• Truth and Bright Water (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1999).
• DreadfulWater Shows Up, as Hartley GoodWeather (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002).
• The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative (Toronto: Anansi, 2003).
• Coyote's New Suit (Toronto: Key Porter, 2004).
• The Red Power Murders: A DreadfulWater Mystery, as GoodWeather (Toronto: HarperCollins,
• The One about Coyote Going West, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1993.
• Medicine River, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1993.
• Borders, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1993.
• Medicine River, motion picture, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Medicine River
• Magpies, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1994.
• Traplines, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1994.
• Joe the Painter and the Bow River Massacre, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996.
• "Borders," television, Four Directions, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996.
• Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996-2003.
• "My Friend's Father," in Multi-Colored Maize, edited by Ron Peat (Auburn, Cal.: Valley, 1981), p. 94.
• The Native in Literature: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, edited by King, Helen Hoy, and
Cheryl Calver, introduction by King (Oakville, Ont.: ECW Press, 1987).
• An Anthology of Short Fiction by Native Writers in Canada, edited by King (Toronto: Canadian
Fiction Magazine, 1988); 125-132.
• "Simple Suffering," in Second Macmillan Anthology, edited by John Metcalf and Leon Rooke
(Toronto: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 56-61.
• "Custer's Last Words," "Another Great Moment in Indian History," "The Truth about the Sioux and
Puppies," "How to Entrench Native Rights," "How to Buy a Haida Bed," "How to Recognize Authentic
Indian Jewelry," "How to Tell Regular Canadians from Real Indians," and "A Short History of the
Hudson's Bay Company," in Soundings, edited by Yvonne Trainer (Calgary: Circle Five, 1989), pp. 15-
• All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction, edited by King (Toronto:
McClelland & Stewart, 1990).
• "Native Literature of Canada," in Dictionary of Native American Literature, edited by Andrew Wiget
(New York: Garland, 1994), pp. 12-18.
• "The Open Car," in Writing Away: The PEN Travel Anthology, edited by Constance Rooke (Toronto:
McClelland & Stewart, 1994): 147-155.
• "The City on the Hill," in Uncommon Wealth, edited by Neil Besner and others (Toronto: Oxford
University Press, 1997), p. 643.
• "How I Spent My Summer Vacation: History, Literature, and the Cant of Authenticity," in Landmarks:
A Process Reader, edited by Roberta Birks and others (Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice Hall, 1998), pp.
• "First Voices, First Words," special issue of Prairie Fire, edited by King, 22, no. 3 (2001).
• "Where the Borg Are," in Story of a Nation: Defining Moments in Our History (Toronto: Doubleday
Canada, 2001), pp. 279-291.
• "Coyote and the Enemy Aliens," in Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada's Past (Toronto:
Doubleday Canada, 2004), pp. 155-174.
• "Rocks and Trees and Water: A Boreal Dialogue," in Rendezvous with the Wild: The Boreal Forest,
edited by James Raffan (Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills, 2004), p. 125.
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS--UNCOLLECTED
• "The Star Thistles," Toyon Review (1976): 22.
• "Note: Roadside Rock Art," Journal of American Folklore, 96 (1980): 60.
• "Hanta Yo," Utah Holiday, 9, no. 9 (1980).
• "N. Scott Momaday: Literature and the Native Writer. An Interview," MELUS, 10, no. 4 (1983): 66-72.
• "Joe the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre," Whetstone (1987).
• "Buffalo Poets," Whetstone (1987): 9-21.
• "Not Counting the Indian, There Were Six," Malahat Review, 80 (1987): 76-81.
• "How Corporal Colin Sterling Saved Blossom, Alberta, and Most of the Rest of the World as Well,"
Whetstone (1988): 29-33.
• "Totem," Whetstone (1988): 29-33.
• "The Closer You Get to Canada, the More Things Will Eat Your Horses," Whetstone (1989): 9-19.
• "The Dog I Wish I Had, I Would Call It Helen," Malahat Review, 89 (1989): 79-87.
• "Little Bombs," West Magazine (1990): 28-30.
• "Prairie Time," Western Living (1990).
• "A Seat in the Garden," Books in Canada, 19, no. 9 (1990): 13-16.
• "Traplines," Prism International, 28, no. 4 (1990): 59-68.
• "Other Stories, Other Voices," Saturday Magazine (31 March 1990): M13, M23.
• "Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial," World Literature Written in English, 30, no. 2 (1990): 10-16.
• "Coyote Learns to Whistle," "Coyote Sees the Prime Minister," and "Coyote Goes to Toronto,"
Canadian Literature, 124, no. 5 (1990): 250-253.
• "It Is Dangerous to Read Newspapers," Hungry Mind Review, 19 (1991): 50-51.
• "Domestic Furies," Malahat Review, 96 (1991): 26-33.
• "Fire and Rain," Border Crossings, 11, no. 4 (1992): 94-97.
• "Noah's Ark," Descant, 24, no. 3 (1993): 36-45.
• "Native Writers of Canada: A Photographic Portrait of 12 Contemporary Authors," by King and Greg
Staats, Books in Canada, 23, no. 5 (1994): 12-18.
• "Shooting the Lone Ranger," Hungry Mind Review, 34 (1995): 36-37.
• "Music," Descant, 92-93 (1996): 45-46.
• "A Short History of Indians in Canada," Toronto Life, 31, no. 11 (1997): 68.
• "Another Great Moment in Canadian Indian History," Story (1999): 62-70.
• "Tidings of Comfort and Joy," National Post, 24 December 1999, pp. 10-11.
• "The Garden Court Motor Motel," Prairie Fire, 22, no. 3 (2001): 207-211.
• "Bad Men Who Love Jesus: The Lost Years," New Quarterly, 86 (2003): 210-212.
• "Indians on Vacation," Western American Literature, 39, no. 2 (2004): cover, 144, 153, 168.
• "Not Enough Horses," Walrus, 63 (2004): 63.
Evertsen, S. (2004). Native American Literatures: An Introduction.
Gruber, E. (2012). Thomas King.
Schorcht, B. (2003). Storied Voices in Native American Texts: Harry Robinson, Thomas King, James
Welch and Leslie Marmon Silko.