I grew up in the small town of Greenfield Center, New York, which is in the foothills of the Adirondacks not far from the city of Saratoga Springs. It is a place I love, close to the forests and the mountains.
I was raised by my grandparents, who had a little general store. My grandmother, Marion Dunham Bowman, was a graduate of Albany Law School. Although she never did practice law, she kept the house filled with books. It's because of her that I was always reading.
My grandfather, Jesse Bowman, was of Abenaki Indian descent. He could barely read and write, but I remember him as one of the kindest people I ever knew. I followed him everywhere. He showed me how to walk quietly in the woods and how to fish. He told me that his father never spanked him, but would only talk to him when he misbehaved. He raised me in the same way.
I loved my grandparents' little general store. I helped out as much as I could, ringing up purchases on the cash register and washing customers' cars and windows. In the fall and winter, I would sit around the wood stove and listen to the local farmers and lumberjacks tell tall tales. One of those men was Lawrence Older. When I grew up, he taught me the songs and stories he knew about the Adirondacks.
Starting to Write
I started to write when I was in the second grade. I wrote poems to my teacher. One day, when she read one to the class, some of the bigger boys got jealous. They beat me up after school. That was my first experience with hostile literary critics. But I kept on writing. And I was always reading, especially classic children's stories about animals.
I think I always knew I would be a writer some day, but it wasn't until I was grown and had children of my own that I turned to telling Native American stories. My Indian grandfather never told those stories to me. Instead, I began to seek them out from other Native elders as soon as I left home for college. I wanted to share those stories with my sons, so I started to write them down. My first book of stories was published in 1975.
My Life Today
Today I live in the same house I was raised in by my grandparents. I write in an upstairs room, and I'm never at a loss for things to write about. I love being a writer and storyteller. I wouldn't want to be anyone else. I've been lucky enough to travel all over the United States, to live in Africa, and to meet interesting people wherever I go.
I've continued to read and to listen to stories from elders. The central themes in my work are simple ones — that we have to listen to each other and to the earth, that we have to respect each other and the earth, that we never know anyone until we know what they have in their heart.
My advice for anyone wanting to write is the same advice I give myself: You have to do it a page at a time, and you have to keep on doing it. You take one step to climb a mountain.