Radio Readers BookByte: A Word from the Author Part I

Sep 18, 2019

Brandon Hobson earned a PhD in Creative Writing from Oklahoma State University . He is the author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University and a Writing Mentor at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Hobson is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

My name is Brandon Hobson and I’m the author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, one of the novels that is part of the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club’s 2019 Fall Read.

Where the Dead Sit Talking is about a 15-year-old Cherokee boy named Sequoyah who is placed in foster care. He is literally and figuratively scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse. 

He keeps mostly to himself living with his emotions pressed deep beneath the surface or at least until he meets 17-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist, also living with the family.  They bond over their shared Native American background and shared tumultuous past in the foster care system.

As Sequoyah’s feelings for Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their past threaten to undo them both.  I think they rely a lot on each other. The foster care system is failing them both and particularly by placing them in a non-Native foster home and so Sequoyah and Rosemary rely a lot on each other.

He’s also really struggling – because it is a coming of age story – he is really struggling with understanding his own obsession with her and her obsessions with the way she dresses, the way he dresses and with his own identity as a Native American.  I wanted to tell a coming of age story of a Native American about a boy placed in the foster care system who has trouble with understanding his feelings, understanding his gender, questioning his gender and also feeling very, very obsessive about people and about things.

I think that particularly with Sequoyah that he is a little bit dangerous. He’s a little bit dangerous, a bit obsessive.   He finds the fact that Rosemary is also Native is also comforting.  They don’t have that community in that foster home.  They are out in a very rural setting out in Oklahoma. They sort of struggle to find that community that they need.

The Indian Child Welfare Act allows for Native foster children to be placed with Native families.  However, there are some instances – at least in Oklahoma – I don’t know about other states – but there are some instances in which non-Native foster homes can take in Native children. And then there is a big argument about whether or not that is beneficial. There is a lack of good foster families out there.  We hear in the news about bad foster families all the time, but that shows there is always a strong need for good foster families.

There is always a shortage of homes and that is why kids are often placed in youth shelters because they can’t find a good foster home for them or once they are in the foster home they can really get kicked out due to behavior problems and that kind of thing. 

I grew up in Oklahoma and lived there my whole life. I live in New Mexico now.  I have been a member of the Cherokee Nation tribe in Oklahoma my whole life.  I was also a social worker in Oklahoma before I went on and got a Ph.D. I worked with a lot of foster kids – Native and non-Native. I wanted to write this story about a Native teen set in rural Oklahoma.

This has been Brandon Hobson, author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, one of the novels selected for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club’s 2019 Fall Read. Thank you for listening.