We are pleased to introduce the winner of the 2016 New Voices Contest, Benjamin C. Jenkins. What follows is a short essay by Ben, about writing about his winning story, “Headdressing,” and his perspective as a Native American writer.
I didn’t set out to write “Headdressing” with any Native American elements in mind, but somehow they found their way into the story. While I am a card-carrying, tribal member of the Choctaw Nation, I never grew up on the reservation. I wasn’t a member of any tribal clubs during school, and didn’t even attend a pow-wow until I was in my thirties. None of these were conscious decisions, it was just something that was part of my life—and not part of my life.
My grandfather, Jesse, had all of those experiences. He was sent away to a boarding school. He was told not to speak his language. He must have experienced prejudice, but he never talked about it—at least not to me.. Whether his silence was out of some sort of shame, or because he wanted to protect his children from the experiences he endured, I’ll never know. Regardless, by not talking about it, his kids and his grandkids lost an immediate connection to their own story. Read more »