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‘The Lost Journals of Sacajewea’: Debra Magpie Earling’s second novel sees the mythologized figure as the agent of her own story

‘The Lost Journals of Sacajewea,’ published by Milkweed Editions, is Debra Magpie Earling’s second novel.
Alexis Hagestad
High Country News, Used with Permission
‘The Lost Journals of Sacajewea,’ published by Milkweed Editions (2023), is Debra Magpie Earling’s second novel.

This week on The Write Question, Lauren speaks with Bitterroot Salish novelist Debra Magpie Earling about her novel, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea (Milkweed Editions). This is the story of one of the most memorialized women in American history: Sacajewea, a Lemhi Shoshone woman who served as an interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Debra’s lyrical novel brings this mythologized figure to life, casting unsparing light on the men who brutalized her and recentering Sacajewea as the arbiter of her own history, which is, ultimately, one of survival. Debra’s book is a tool of and for empathy, not so much one of understanding each word or experience, but of feeling. The Lost Journals of Sacajewea will have readers and listeners feeling. This is a conversation about reclamation, presentism and history, writing, survival, and so much more!

About Debra:

Debra Magpie Earling is the author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea. An earlier version of the latter, written in verse, was produced as an artist book during the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. She has received both a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is retired from the University of Montana, where she was named professor emeritus in 2021. She is Bitterroot Salish.

Debra Magpie Earling recommends:

Holding Fire: A Reckoning with the American West by Bryce Andrews (Mariner Books)

The River You Touch: Making a Life on Moving Waterby Chris Dombrowski (Milkweed Editions)

Where Outside the Body is the Soul Today by Melissa Kwasny (University of Washington Press)

Another Attempt at Rescue by M. L. Smoker (Hanging Loose Press)

Lauren Korn recommends:

Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling (Milkweed Editions)

Night of the Living Rez: Stories by Morgan Talty (Tin House Books)

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott (Melville House Publishing in the U.S., Penguin Random House Canada in Canada)

Horsefly Dress by Heather Cahoon (University of Arizona Press)

Another Attempt at Rescue by M. L. Smoker (Hanging Loose Press)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, and editor; and Chris Moyles, co-producer, editor, and sound engineer.

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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