Historian Colin Calloway’s book The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation has been named a 2018 National Book Awards finalist in nonfiction, along with four other works in the running for one of the most coveted literary prizes in America.
This year’s winners in five categories—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature—will be announced Nov. 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony in New York City. The nonfiction finalists were selected by a distinguished panel of literary experts from a total of 546 books submitted by publishers and were advanced from the longlist of 10 works announced in September.
Calloway, the John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and a member of the Native American studies faculty, says he’s still stunned by the honor.
“I remember when I saw the longlist, there was a little announcement that went something like, ‘The 10 people on the list include four Pulitzer Prize winners, three Guggenheims, two past National Book Award finalists, and Colin,’ ” Calloway says.
The Indian World of George Washington explores the complex politics of Native American nations, alliances, clans, and popular leaders within the story of the first president of the United States.
“This is not a biography of George Washington, but I used his life as a structure. That worked because I was able to show how, at very important points in his life, things would not have worked out as they did were it not for Native Americans, Native American land, and Native American power,” Calloway says.
The book begins with Washington as an ambitious and inexperienced soldier who literally stumbles into the first battle (some say massacre) of the French and Indian War under the guidance of the Seneca half-king Tanaghrisson, and ends with Washington as a distant figure held up to post-revolutionary Native American leaders, like the Cherokee Bloody Fellow and the Seneca Red Jacket, as a near-god to petition as if in prayer. “Washington spent a lifetime turning Indian homelands into real estate for himself and his nation,” Calloway writes.
“What I’m doing in the book is what I and lots of my colleagues in Native American history have been doing for a long time, and that’s trying to get Native American history into American history in a significant way so that it’s not just a footnote or a sideshow.”
Calloway has written 14 books on Native American history, many of them during his 25 years teaching at Dartmouth. By writing about Washington’s part in that history, Calloway has attracted the attention of a wider audience, he says.
“If you link the story to the most famous American and the first president, it really helps to demonstrate that American history would not have unfolded as it did without Native Americans.”
William Platt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.