A novel by Professor Kimberly Schmidt of Eastern Mennonite University has been honored by Women Writing the West, an organization that supports authors who promote women’s contribution in western United States.
Magpie’s Blanket (University of New Mexico Press, 2016) is one of four finalists in the historical fiction category of the WILLA Literary Awards. The winner has already been named: Basque Moon by Julie Weston.
Schmidt will be recognized, along with category winner Weston, during the 23rd Annual Women Writing the West Conference Oct. 26-28 in Tucson, Arizona.
The WILLA awards are named for 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather. Twenty-two works in seven categories were selected, “representing the best of 2016 published literature for women’s or girl’s stories set in the American West,” according to a press release.
Schmidt’s work brings to life the culture and history of the Southern Cheyenne through female narrators, each of whom have a connection to the Sand Creek and Washita massacres.
“This award came as a complete surprise,” Schmidt said. “I am grateful to the person who nominated Magpie’s Blanket. It’s gratifying to know that Women Writing the West does not shy away from painful histories and that the organization is supportive of first-time fiction writers.”
The story of how Magpie’s Blanket came to life is told in this article featuring Schmidt and Southern Cheyenne Peace Chief Lawrence Hart, both Bethel College alumni. In 1968, Hart had participated with his people in a reenactment of the battle. The trauma of the experience and how it affected his people moved him to create a healing ceremony later that day.
Hart shared this experience on the battlefield in 2003, shortly after inviting Schmidt to write a women’s history of the Southern Cheyenne.
Schmidt’s novel brings to life the history of Plains Indian women and the white invasion — “an account not solely of violence and bloodshed but also of healing and forgiveness.”
Beginning with a massacre survivor who then witnesses a second attack, the book recounts memories of three generations, ending with a “century-late reconciliation after the townspeople’s misguided attempt to re-create the ‘battle’ of the Washita with descendants of U.S. Calvary soldiers.”
Proceeds from the sale of the book support the Cheyenne Cultural Center in Clinton, Oklahoma, which was started by Hart in 1977 to help preserve Cheyenne culture. The foreword is written by Dr. Henrietta Mann, former president of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal College.
Schmidt is professor of history and director of the Washington Community Scholars’ Center. She earned her PhD in American history from Binghamton University in 1995.