I FIRST came across Daniel Heath Justice on the podcast Medicine for the Resistance (which, full disclosure, is cohosted by my friend Patty Krawec). He’s been a recurring guest on the podcast, and throughout these interviews I have found his navigation of complicated topics to be full of nuance, humility, and humor, even as he maintains an informed and vigorous point of view. Those interviews led me to read some of his works.
Justice grew up in rural Colorado, the son of a Cherokee man and white woman. As a little boy, he was always drawn to stories, whether in written or oral form. This impulse led him into literature studies, first as an undergrad at the University of Northern Colorado and then while earning a doctorate in English from the University of Nebraska, where he specialized in Native American literature.
He currently teaches at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) in their First Nations and Indigenous Studies program. He is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He has published extensively in literary theory and history, his best-known book being Why Indigenous Literatures Matter. He also has published a trilogy of fantasy novels, loosely inspired by matriarchal Cherokee traditions, released in a single volume as The Way of Thorn and Thunder: The Kynship Chronicles. He recently published Raccoon, his second volume in Reaktion Books’ Animal series of cultural histories. He has been contributor and editor to anthologies of both fiction and literary criticism, including volumes exploring gender and sexuality.
This interview was conducted via Zoom in late July.
Neil Ellis Orts: Do you remember when you first started writing?
Daniel Heath Justice: As soon as I could write, I was writing stories. I still have the very first book I ever wrote. I was five, and it was made from paper plates stapled together, and it was a story about bald eagles. In 1980, there was a lot of anxiety about the long-term viability of bald eagle populations because of pollution, so I wrote a book about saving bald eagles. I illustrated it, too. My mom saved it.
Neil Ellis Orts, a writer based Houston, is the author of the novella Cary and John (Resource Publications, 2020).