1939 - 2008

“Truth, acceptance of the truth, is a shattering experience. It shatters the binding shroud of culture trance. It rips apart smugness, arrogance, superiority, and self-importance. It requires acknowledgment of responsibility for the nature and quality of each of our own lives, our own inner lives as well as the life of the world. Truth, inwardly accepted, humbling truth, makes one vulnerable. You can't be right, self-righteous, and truthful at the same time.”

 – Paula Gunn Allen

At a time when academia still denied the existence of Native American literature, Paula Gunn Allen recognized its importance and dedicated her career to proving its merit. Daughter of a Lebanese-American father and a Laguna-Sioux-Scottish mother, Allen was raised in New Mexico on the Laguna Pueblo where she was deeply influenced by matriarchal Pueblo culture. After receiving her BA and MFA degrees from the University of Oregon, Allen returned to New Mexico to receive her Ph.D. in American Studies with a concentration in Native American Literature. In 1978 she received a NEA creative writing fellowship, followed two years later by a postdoctoral fellowship to study at UCLA. Her 1983 novel, The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, reflected her upbringing as a mixed-blood struggling with creative expression. In 1983 she published Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs, a primary text for the study of Native American literature. Three years later her influential book, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, explored the importance of women in traditional Native culture and how that had been subverted by colonization. Allen argued that many Native tribes were “gynocentric” – with woman making principal decisions – while others stressed a balance between male and female rather than domination. In this work Allen also came out as a lesbian, though she would later redefine herself as a “serial bisexual” concerned more with the type of person than their physical gender. In 1990 she received an American Book Award for editing Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Short Stories by American Indian Writers. In all, her 17 books include volumes of poetry, essays, and works for younger readers. She was an educator at several universities before her retirement in 1999. In 2008 she passed away from lung cancer. She was 68.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Bisexual

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White Middle Eastern Native/Indigenous

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Information Age (1970-present)

Field(s) of Contribution





Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Susan Koppelman Award (1989)

American Book Award Recipient for Editing Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Short Stories by American Indian Writers (1990)

J. Hubble Medal for American Literature by the Modern Language Association (1999)

Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award (2001)



Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell