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Live! Pledge week episode: Montana Poet Laureate Chris La Tray on poetry, public radio, and ‘Becoming Little Shell’

Chris La Tray is the current Poet Laureate of Montana (2023-2025). His memoir, ‘Becoming Little Shell: A Landless Indian’s Journey Home’ will be published August 20, 2024 (Milkweed Editions).

This week on The Write Question, Montana Poet Laureate Chris La Tray joins host Lauren Korn in Studio A for a live pledge week (and National Poetry Month!) episode. Chris will be back in the studio with Lauren this summer for more conversation about Becoming Little Shell: A Landless Indian’s Journey Home (forthcoming from Milkweed Editions August 20, 2024).

Join the party! Contribute to MTPR by donating online here.

About the book:

“I’m committed to uncovering the culture of my people. I’m committed to learning as much of the language as I can. I’ve always loved this land, and I’ve always loved Indian people. The more I dig into it, the more I interact with my Indian relatives, the more it blooms in my heart. The more it blooms in my spirit.”

Growing up in Montana, Chris La Tray always identified as Indian. Despite the fact that his father fiercely denied any connection, he found Indigenous people alluring, often recalling his grandmother’s consistent mention of their Chippewa heritage. When La Tray attended his grandfather’s funeral as a young man, he finally found himself surrounded by relatives who obviously were Indigenous. “Who were they?” he wondered, and “Why was I never allowed to know them?”

Combining diligent research and compelling conversations with authors, activists, elders, and historians, La Tray embarks on a journey into his family’s past, discovering along the way a larger story of the complicated history of Indigenous communities—as well as the devastating effects of colonialism that continue to ripple through surviving generations. And as he comes to embrace his full identity, he eventually seeks enrollment with the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, joining their 158-year-long struggle for federal recognition.

Both personal and historical, Becoming Little Shell is a testament to the power of storytelling, to family and legacy, and to finding home. Infused with candor, heart, wisdom, and an abiding love for a place and a people, Chris La Tray’s remarkable journey is both revelatory and redemptive.

About Chris:

Chris La Tray is a Métis storyteller, a descendent of the Pembina Band of the mighty Red River of the North, and an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. His third book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in Niibin, Summer, 2024. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large, won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. His book of haiku and haibun poetry, Descended from a Travel-worn Satchel, was published in 2021 by Foothills Publishing. Chris writes the weekly newsletter “An Irritable Métis” and lives near Frenchtown, Montana. He is the Montana Poet Laureate for 2023–2025.

Lauren Korn recommends:

Becoming Little Shell: A Landless Indian’s Journey Home (formerly sub-titled Returning Home to the Landless Indians of Montana, Milkweed Editions) and One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large (Riverfeet Press) by Chris La Tray

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen (Ballantine Books)

Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption by Susan Devan Harness (University of Nebraska Press)

A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt (Two Dollar Radio)

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint LLC)

Aligning the Glacier’s Ghost: Essays on Solitude and Landscape by Sarah Capdeville (University of New Mexico Press)

The Write Question’s 2023-2024 season is supported by a co-op of four independent bookstores, encouraging a lifetime of learning through storytelling and conversation: Elk River Books in Livingston, Montana; Chapter One Bookstore in Hamilton, Montana; Montana Book Co. in Helena, Montana; and Fact & Fiction Books in Missoula, Montana.

Additional 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 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.

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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