Issue #131: Snow Men

Our next issue of One Story takes us back in time to 1786. Set in Lituya Bay, Naomi Williams’s “Snow Men” concerns the La Pérouse expedition, told through the eyes of a young girl of the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska. I always enjoy stories that tap into history, and “Snow Men” is meticulously researched (read Naomi’s Q&A with us to hear more about her process). But what drew me the most to this piece was how it went beyond the “first contact” stories I was familiar with and shifted the focus, so that instead of highlighting the damage white explorers brought to native populations, the story turned instead into a meditation on loss and mourning in different cultures. “Snow Men” is part of a cycle of stories that Naomi Williams is working on, all concerning the La Pérouse expedition. I’m very excited to see how the collection comes together. “Snow Men” was recently performed by actress Cynthia Mitchell Speakman as part of Sacramento’s Stories on Stage  series. I’m sure it was the first stop of many for Naomi Williams, and I’m happy to welcome this talented new writer to our pages.

5 thoughts on “Issue #131: Snow Men

  1. I just subscribed to ONE STORY. This is the first issue I have received. Lucky me! I DO find it hard to read with so much going on in my life. This one story was such a rich experience. Why am I not reading all the time like I use too? Well, I am “reading” all the time on the web. Endless reading. All the time. But, it is so different from READING. Reading the Snow Men—the loss, the mourning, the personal isolation, the cultural confusion—brought me back to my inner life through the life of the characters. Thank you. I am looking forward to further sustenance.

  2. I also received my first issue of ONE STORY with Snow Men and am sad to report that I was extremely disappointed. It’s a story that’s been told a million times before, told in myths, poems, and folklore. Indigenous culture meets the Snow Men (aka White Men). There’s the canoe-capsizing (jealous!) god of the sea, Kah Lituya, who turns the people she kills into bears, or Land Otters. Depends. Hmmm. There’s the elders, who stereotype the Snow Men. Well, maybe not. “Then father said some of the Snow Men go off into the woods with the Eagle women on the other side of the bay, and my uncle said, They are all ugly anyway, the Eagle women, and everyone laughed except for his wife, because she is an Eagle, and she refused that night to sleep by him, and then he was not laughing.” Is this supposed to be a serious historical criticism of the white man taking advantage of innocent women seen through the perspective of a prominent tribal males??

    I don’t know what else to say—it’s more of the same, more cliches, more stereotypes, more prosaic prose. Nothing more to say.

  3. John: On the other hand, you have to give credit to a writer for daring to write from an alternative point of view knowing that some people would criticize. The storytelling is very strong in this piece, and so is the voice, which I can still feel and recall, days later. I was convinced, and I commend the writer for her hard work and bravery.

  4. Gina: I don’t see white-man-as-oppressor as being the alternative point of view. Hardly. Christopher Columbus, the American founding fathers. Native Americans, the 19th/early 20th century worker, have all been criticized for same, ad nauseum. That’s not to say it’s a historically inaccurate point of view, nor do I condemn the writer of Snow Men for reporting her version of the event. For the publication to profess that Snow Men was “meticulously researched,” however, is hyperbole.

    Hard work. Sure. Naomi Williams, brave?? No. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was brave. Simone Weil was brave. Anne Frank was brave.

    The storytelling may be strong (though I’m not convinced) but even so, it’s a component and not one necessary to writing a great story. Nor am I suggesting to know what makes such a story, only that when I finish one I desire only to sit in front of my TV alone dunking double chocolate chip cookies in milk and watch reruns of The Facts Of Life.

    Just kidding.

  5. I just read this on a plane (I travel a lot for work), and it was magical. I have traversed the rivers of the Tlingit into Dry Bay, and worked with Lummi to the south. This grabbed me in some mystic bioregional way I can barely describe. I found the girl’s point-of-view refreshing, even uplifting. I was transported back there, to sit on the Other Side of the bay. A fine story, and I look forward to the whole collection. I will also share it with Native friends and report back.

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