This Basket Holds Water: “Coiling” in Shapes of Native Nonfiction


Since Shapes of Native Nonfiction’s publication in 2019, the anthology’s structure has been the subject of some dispute. The collection of essays by contemporary Indigenous authors is organized into sections based on basket weaving techniques. In her review of the book on World Literature Today, a white writer named Nichole L. Reber criticizes this structure as “academic artifice.” Indigenous author Casandra López responds to Reber’s review by defending the anthology’s organization: “[t]he framing of basketry and the formation or practice of basketry direct readers in a culturally relevant manner to the various craft components and techniques of the essays.” Indeed, in their introduction to the collection, the editors, Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton, explain that their intention behind the structure was to call attention to the craft involved in Indigenous writers’ work, particularly personal essays. As Washuta and Warburton argue, and López agrees, settlers often treat Indigenous writings as an anthropological artifacts rather than serious literature. That is, we read them for their content, for what we can learn about Indigenous cultures from them, rather than their literary quality. The organization of the essays in Shapes challenges readers to notice the ways in which the essays in each section reflect the basketry technique of the section’s title. In this presentation, I will analyze two essays from the “Coiling” section of the anthology, Tiffany Midge’s “Fertility Rites” and Billy-Ray Belcourt’s “AND SO I ANAL DOUCHE WHILE KESHA’S ‘PRAYING’ PLAYS FROM MY IPHONE ON REPEAT,” in order to show how they display the coiling form. This paper will highlight the craft involved in Midge and Belcourt’s work and demonstrate that the structure of Shapes is not “academic artifice.”