Growing up, Andrea Rogers, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, couldn’t find books that featured girls like herself written by Indigenous authors.
By the time she was looking for books for her own children, she was happy to see books by Cynthia Leitich Smith who is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, but still wanted more options. Today, the author is addressing those gaps by writing those characters herself.
Her new book “Man Made Monsters,” an interconnected series of short, horror stories debuts on Oct. 4.
“There’s been a cultural shift where people are interested in deep, authentic stories… not simply expecting every native character to put on a headdress and wear braids,” Rogers said. “And so we had to get to a point where I guess people were ready for good, authentic stories and not not expecting writers to play Indian.”
The book fuses the monsters that run wild in the public’s imagination — like vampires, werewolves and even the local legend of the Goatman — to those that are all too real — like death, intimate partner violence and forced relocation.
She credits Stephen Graham Jones and his page-turner “The Only Good Indians” for making room for other Native authors in the horror genre.
During her MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she connected with other authors like Pulitzer Prize finalist Tommy Orange and NYT bestselling author Terese Mailhot. Rogers described both as “forces for good” with Mailhot being a sounding board for Rogers and offering advice while Orange served as her thesis adviser during her final semester and was the first person to read her book in its entirety.
While her most recent novel of fictional horror stories is geared toward young adults, she previously wrote a children’s book called “Mary And The Trail Of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story” that wound up on NPR’s best books of 2020 list.
As a teacher, Rogers believes good storytelling tends to stick with students much longer than a slideshow or set of bullet points.
“It’s a lot more powerful because I can give you statistics on boarding schools,” she explained. “But (if) I’m telling you a story about what happened to my father and his cousins it reminds you that these are human beings. They’re not numbers.”
Her dad returned from boarding school, unable to communicate with his own father because he had not been allowed to speak Cherokee while at school, she said.
Hoping to keep her ancestral language alive, Rogers drew inspiration from Anthony Burgess’ inclusion of Russian words in “A Clockwork Orange.” Burgess, who was studying the language at the time, wanted readers to finish the book with a basic Russian vocabulary. Rogers took a page from his method and sprinkled Cherokee words throughout her own book and included a glossary.
Rogers is still an educator today and teaches at the University of Arkansas where she is getting her Ph.D. in English. Before that she spent several years teaching in schools across DFW including around seven years at Fort Worth’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
“The best thing about teaching for me was how much I learned from kids, and keeping a really fresh perspective on the world and trying to remember what kids are going through,” she said. “They’re world builders.”
One of her former students at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Kimberly Guerrero Ruvalcaba, is now a senior.
The 17-year-old read Rogers’ first book and plans to read the new one when it comes out.
“I thought it was amazing because, when I was really little, I wanted to be an author,” Guerrero Ruvalcaba said.
Though the senior is no longer interested in that career path, she still appreciates the hard work it takes to get published.
“I think that every person can be a writer, but there is a certain level of gatekeeping in the writing industry,” Guerrero Ruvalcaba said. “I understand it’s an industry … people need to make money, but simultaneously … I don’t think it’s helpful. I feel like a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds can be great authors and could write amazing things.”
Guerrero Ruvalcaba gravitated to Rogers’ classroom, even when she didn’t need to be there, like after class or during lunch, to chat.
The opportunity to drop in and start conversations with colleagues, neighbors and students were slim during the pandemic. But even though Rogers’ book features short stories from one family through several generations and across time, she hopes people reading it will walk away understanding the importance of community.
“Finding your people is important. Building relationships with people who are positive and good for you is so important, especially as a teenager,” she said. “I think a lot of my book is trying to address that fact.”
Editor’s note: A quote in this story was updated at 7:39 p.m.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.