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Deborah Jackson Taffa, Whiskey Tender: A Memoir
Deborah Jackson Taffa, Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

Wed, Mar 06


Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse

Deborah Jackson Taffa, Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

A memoir of family and survival, coming-of-age on and off the reservation, and of the frictions between mainstream American culture and Native inheritance; assimilation and reverence for tradition. Deborah will be in conversation with author Pam Houston.

Date, Time & Location

Mar 06, 2024, 6:00 PM MST

Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 202 Galisteo St, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA

About the Event

This will be an in-store event and will be live streamed to Zoom, register for Zoom here.

Pre-order Whiskey Tender ($30, hardcover) from CW online here or call the store to order (505) 988-4226. Publishes February 19, 2024.

“We have more Native stories now, but we have not heard one like this.....This book, never anything less than mesmerizing, is full of family stories and vital Native history. It pulses and it aches, and it lifts, consistently. It threads together so much truth by the time we are done, what has been woven together equals a kind of completeness from brokenness, and a hope from knowing love and loss and love again by naming it so.”  — Tommy Orange, National Bestselling Author of There There

* A Zibby Mag "Most Anticipated Book" 

* A San Francisco Chronicle "New Book to Cozy Up With" 

* A Publishers Weekly "Memoirs & Biographies: Top 10" 

Deborah Jackson Taffa was raised to believe that some sacrifices were necessary to achieve a better life. Her grandparents—citizens of the Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo tribe—were sent to Indian boarding schools run by white missionaries, while her parents were encouraged to take part in governmental job training off the reservation. Assimilation meant relocation, but as Taffa matured into adulthood, she began to question the promise handed down by her elders and by American society: that if she gave up her culture, her land, and her traditions, she would not only be accepted, but would be able to achieve the “American Dream.”

Whiskey Tender traces how a mixed tribe native girl—born on the California Yuma reservation and raised in Navajo territory in New Mexico—comes to her own interpretation of identity, despite her parent’s desires for her to transcend the class and “Indian” status of her birth through education, and despite the Quechan tribe’s particular traditions and beliefs regarding oral and recorded histories. Taffa’s childhood memories unspool into meditations on tribal identity, the rampant criminalization of Native men, governmental assimilation policies, the Red Power movement, and the negotiation between belonging and resisting systemic oppression. Pan-Indian, as well as specific tribal histories and myths, blend with stories of a 1970s and 1980s childhood spent on and off the reservation.

Taffa offers a sharp and thought-provoking historical analysis laced with humor and heart. As she reflects on her past and present—the promise of assimilation and the many betrayals her family has suffered, both personal and historical; trauma passed down through generations—she reminds us of how the cultural narratives of her ancestors have been excluded from the central mythologies and structures of the “melting pot” of America, revealing all that is sacrificed for the promise of acceptance.

About the Author

Deborah Jackson Taffa is the director of the MFA CW Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Awarded the PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History, her memoir WHISKEY TENDER, (HarperCollins Harper) was named one of 2024’s most anticipated books by Electric Literature, The Millions, Zibby Media, and Publisher’s Weekly. With fellowships from the University of Iowa, MacDowell, Hedgebrook, Rona Jaffe, Tin House, A Public Space, Ellen Meloy, Kranzberg Arts, and the NY State Summer Writer’s Institute, Deborah’s work can be found in Salon, LARB, The Best Nonrequired Reading, and other places. She serves as editor-in-chief at River Styx magazine and is a citizen of the Quechan (Yuma) Nation and Laguna Pueblo.

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