Adrian C. Louis died September 10, 2018
He was from the Sparks Colony near Reno, Nevada. He was the editor of an urban newspaper based in Los Angeles called the Talking Leaf.
The biggest fight he had in trying to keep the paper running was securing the funds to do it. He was getting damned tired of the fight when he called me at the Lakota Times in 1983.
A member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe, Adrian grew up in Nevada and earned a BA and an MA in creative writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He had worked as a journalist and an editor the Lakota Times on the Pine Ridge Reservation and assisted me in founding the Native American Journalists Association. His novel Skins (1995) was made into a movie of the same title in 2002, directed by Chris Eyre. Louis has also published a collection of short stories: Wild Indians & Other Creatures (1996).
A chronicler of Native American life, Louis stated his themes as “personal survival” in an interview for Geronimo: A Journal of Politics and Culture. “I’m writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don’t have a choice—for the downtrodden.” Louis’s poetry collections include The Indian Cheap Wine Seance (1974); Fire Water World (1989), winner of the Poetry Center Book Award from San Francisco State University; Among the Dog Eaters (1992); Blood Thirsty Savages (1994); Vortex of Indian Fevers (1995); Ceremonies of the Damned (1997); Ancient Acid Flashes Back (2000); Bone & Juice (2001); Evil Corn (2004); Logorrhea (2006); and Savage Sunsets (2012).
Louis was the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Fellowship. He taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation and at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.
There has been an outpouring of condolences from journalists, Indian and white, who knew Adrian and of his devotion to the Indian newspapers. Looking back over the decades I recall a column Adrian wrote for the Lakota Times. It was a simple column about looking out of the window of his house in Martin, South Dakota and seeing some sheets that had been hung out on a clothesline. Just watching the sheets blow in the wind gave him visions of boats with billowing sails floating across Pyramid Lake on his reservation. He envisioned ghosts floating in the air. But Adrian could do that. He could take a simple idea and turn it into something big and special. And in so doing he could bring you into his vision just as clearly as if you saw it through his eyes.
Professor of Journalism Bill Dulaney from Penn State was a subscriber to our newspaper. One day he called and asked me if I could find out how many Indian publications were out there. Adrian and I started working on it. There was no such thing as the Internet so we scrounged through everything we could find searching out Indian newspapers and publications. In the interim we worked with Professor Dulaney to raise the funds to hold a meeting at Penn State. Loren Tapahe of the Navajo Times joined us in this endeavor.
After we had compiled a list of names we sent a letter to every Indian journalist and editor we had located and gave them a time and date to attend a meeting at Penn State. The Gannett Foundation put up the funds for that first meeting of Indian journalists. It was the small beginning of the Native American Journalists Association, an organization that is still in full swing.
When we held our first meeting to select a board for NAJA Adrian and I were friendly competitors for the job of first president of the organization. I won the contest, but Adrian was my colleague and firm supporter from that day on.
When asked why he decided to move to the Pine Ridge Reservation he said, “I wanted to work for a first class Indian newspaper and the Lakota Times was considered by nearly every Indian journalist as the best Indian newspaper in America. I wanted to be a part of it.”
As I write this the plans for Adrian’s funeral are still up in the air. So please let this column about my friend serve as an obit and as a tribute to my friend. It was an honor to know him and to work with him. He will long be remembered for his integrity and enthusiasm by the journalists who knew him.
(Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@ gmail.com)