GRANTEE: Gretchen Potter
NATIVE HERITAGE: Tonawanda Seneca
LOCATION: Claremont, CA
AWARD: 2021 LIFT – Early Career Support for Native Artists
DISCIPLINE: Fiction/Poetry Writing
SOCIAL MEDIA: Twitter
Gretchen Potter is a writer, educator, and enrolled citizen of the Tonawanda Seneca from upstate New York. Though she currently lives with her three children in Southern California, she is forever a woodlands person most at home near forests and lakes. Like other Native readers, she is hungry for authentic representation of her family and community in books. This inspires her to write complex characters who sometimes find themselves in quirky, magical, or impossible situations. Painful legacies of Native American historical experiences may resonate for her characters, but these are Native communities with a present and a future as well as a past, and whose truths and hopes hold the power to change the world.
Potter says, “The broader landscape for Native artists is one of growing interest, of greater potential readership and viewers, and of awakening to what has long been ignored, opening up to the breadth of our diverse experiences from all over Indian Country. This is a particularly exciting time to be a Native artist, as those who forged a path have created so much room for us, and I am thrilled for my artistic voice to be part of the continuing conversation.” Also a writer for children, her debut picture book is forthcoming in 2022.
During the LIFT award year, Potter will work on a novel-in-stories, Barren Creek, set in the fiery aftermath of a Seneca tribe having won a major land claims case and the fallout from inside and outside of the reservation community that sparks civil unrest. Throughout the stories, characters grapple with trauma, loss, and disempowerment. Things aren’t always as they appear and the speculative elements invite the reader to question their own assumptions. The characters ultimately teach us about our interdependence with each other and all other beings and our environment. Threaded throughout are themes of invisibility, which reflect the common experience of feeling unseen, whether erased in history, or misrepresented in the American imagination.
I am awed by the power of story to release the past and shape the future; storytelling is an act of sovereignty.
—Gretchen Potter (Tonawanda Seneca)