Today we are pleased to bring back a favorite feature here at AMS::ATX—-5 Questions! Today’s interview introduces you to Dr. James H. Cox, AMS affiliate faculty member in English and author of the forthcoming book, The Red Land to the South: American Indian Writers and Indigenous Mexico.
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
My most recent project was on American Indian writers who traveled to Mexico and wrote about it and its indigenous population. This was an exciting project because I was thinking about comparative indigeneities, about the way indigeneity is experienced in the United States and Mexico, and how it’s experienced when people are crossing the border as well. I enjoyed it because I was writing about a time period in American Indian writing that has been largely neglected by literature scholars, and overlooked by historians, too. This period falls between the progressive and civil rights eras – it looks like an empty four decades, but the period is actually full of manuscripts and published works that only a few people have studied in depth. The genre diversity within the project is fun as well – I worked with detective novels, worked with plays, which I had never done before, and nonfiction. I was going outside of the more conventional literary genres, reading biographies and memoirs and histories by Native authors.
Additionally, I’ve just started a new project that I’m really stoked about. One of the writers in the American Indians in Mexico project is Lynn Riggs, a Cherokee dramatist who published between 15-20 plays, a book of cowboy songs, and a book of poetry during his life. He wrote about 10 other plays that went unproduced and unpublished. In 1931, he also made an experimental film with a director named James Hughes and with guidance from several fairly well known cinematographers from Hollywood, including Henwar Rodakiewicz. It is a 15 minute film of a day in Santa Fe. When the film was complete, he showed it first to the literary crowd–Alice Corbin Henderson, Spud Johnson–in Santa Fe at that time. It’s a silent movie, and he interspersed it with a poem of his called “Santo Domingo Corn Dance.” There are two dominant images in the film. One is of a huge cross outside a church in Santa Fe, and then there’s a dance by local indigenous people. So I’m going to Santa Fe and the New Mexico historical archives. In particular, I want to know who the dancers are. If the dance in the film is actually the corn dance, then Riggs violated a prohibition against filming it. I suspect it wasn’t, but, if so, I’d like to know how and why Riggs staged it the way he did for the film. I’m also interested in his multicultural conception of Santa Fe at the time: there are Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Anglos, interspersed throughout the entire film; and I’m interested in the images too of the cross and the corn dance and how he’s playing with both of them to convey a sense of the religious identity of this place.