Creative Work by Greg Sarris

Greg Sarris has been involved in a number of creative projects from many different disciplines. Use the links below to navigate to the section you wish to view.

Books | Film & TV | Stage | Non-fiction | Children Stories | Articles & Speeches

Books by Greg Sarris

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how a mountain was made

How A Mountain Was Made (2017) – Stories

In the tradition of Calvino’s Italian Folktales, Greg Sarris, author of the award-winning novel Grand Avenue, turns his attention to his ancestral homeland of Sonoma Mountain in Northern California. In sixteen interconnected original stories, the twin crows Question Woman and Answer Woman take us through a world unlike yet oddly reminiscent of our own: one which blooms bright with poppies, lupines, and clover; one in which Waterbug kidnaps an entire creek; in which songs have the power to enchant; in which Rain is a beautiful woman who keeps people’s memories in stones. Inspired by traditional Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo creation tales, these stories are timeless in their wisdom and beauty, and because of this timelessness their messages are vital and immediate. The figures in these stories ponder the meaning of leadership, of their place within the landscape and their community. In these stories we find a model for how we can all come home again. At once ancient and contemporary, How a Mountain Was Made is equally at home in modern letters as the ancient story cycle. Sarris infuses his stories with a prose stylist’s creativity and inventiveness, moving American Indian literature in a new and emergent direction.

“These are charming and wise stories, simply told, to be enjoyed by young and old alike—’stories need us if they are to come forth and have life too.'”—Kirkus Reviews

grand avenue

Grand Avenue (2015) – A Novel in Stories

A reissued edition of Greg Sarris’ widely acclaimed short story collection, Grand Avenue, American Indian Literature and Case Studies.

Grand Avenue runs through the center of the Northern California town of Santa Rosa. One stretch of it is home not only to Pomo Indians making a life outside the reservation but also to Mexicans, blacks, and some Portuguese, all trying to find their way among the many obstacles in their turbulent world.
Bound together by a lone ancestor, the lives of the American Indians form the core of these stories—tales of healing cures, poison, family rituals, and a humor that allows the inhabitants of Grand Avenue to see their own foibles with a saving grace.
A teenage girl falls in love with a crippled horse marked for slaughter. An aging healer summons her strength for one final song. A father seeks a bond with his illegitimate son. A mother searches for the power to care for her cancer-stricken daughter’s spirit. Here is a tapestry of lives rendered with the color, wisdom, and a quest for meaning that are characteristic of the traditional storytelling in which they are rooted, a tradition Sarris grew up hearing and learning. Vibrant with the emotions and realities of a changing world, these narratives—the basis of an HBO miniseries—are all equally stunning and from the heart.

“Greg Sarris . . . has made himself an exciting new part of the latest Native American Literary Renaissance, but his stories go way back and they look far ahead, like the good stories that our grandmothers have told for thousands of years. Greg Sarris . . . has listened closely to their stories, and we should all listen closely to his.”–Sherman Alexie, author of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

“I admire Greg Sarris’s sense of the gritty passion of life. A resonant thread of myth and laughter pulls the tales together. He allows the story to overtake him, the sign of a fine storyteller.”–Joy Harjo author of She Had Some Horses and In Mad Love and War


Watermelon Nights (1999) – novel

In a powerful follow-up to his widely acclaimed short story collection, Grand Avenue, Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris tells a tale about the love and forgiveness that keep a modern American Indian family together.

Told from the points of view of a twenty-year-old Pomo Indian named Johnny Severe, his grandmother, Elba, and his mother, Iris, Watermelon Nights uncovers the secrets behind each of these characters’ extraordinary powers of perception. Johnny is trying to organize the remaining members of his displaced tribe; at the same time he contemplates leaving his grandmother’s home for the big city. As the novel shifts perspective, tracing the controversial history of the tribe, we learn how the tragic events of Elba’s childhood, as well as Iris’s attempts to separate herself from her cultural roots, make Johnny’s dilemma all the more difficult. Gritty, yet rich in detail and emotion, Watermelon Nights stands beside the novels of Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, and Sherman Alexie as an important work, not only in Native American literature, but in contemporary American fiction. A Los Angeles Times Bestseller!

“Mothers and daughters, unknown and absent fathers, love, cultural isolation, bigotry–these are the big issues that Sarris wraps his able arms around in this gorgeously written, compelling drama.” –New York Newsday

“Fans of Michael Dorris should be excited and reassured by Watermelon Nights that there are other, equally compelling voices in American Indian literature.” –San Francisco Chronicle


Grand Avenue (1994) – short stories

Greg Sarris‘ first work of fiction, a novel in 10 interconnected stories, probes the disenfranchised lives of a Native American community in California. Grand Avenue, a street in the center of the northern California town of Santa Rosa where “everybody’s connected to everybody,” is home not only to Pomo Indians making a life outside of the reservation, but also to Mexicans, blacks, and some Portuguese, all trying to find their way among the many obstacles in their turbulent world. Bound together by a lone ancestor, the lives of the Native Americans form the core of these stories – tales full of cures, poison, family healing rituals, and a kind of humor that allows the inhabitants of Grand Avenue to see their own foibles with a saving grace. A teenage girl falls in love with a crippled horse marked for slaughter . . . an aging healer summons his strength for one final song . . . a father seeks a bond with his illegitimate son . . . a mother searches for the power to care for her cancer-stricken daughter’s spirit. Here is a tapestry of lives rendered with the color, wisdom, and quest for meaning of the traditional tale-telling in which they are rooted. Vibrant with the emotions and realities of a changing world, these stories are all equally stunning and from the heart.

“Set in a small city in northern California, these ten stories focus on Santa Rosa’s poorest neighborhood, Grand Avenue. The most noticeable population on Grand Avenue is a clan of Native Americans, Pomo Indians who live in dilapidated army barracks at the end of the street. Drunkenness, family fights, welfare payments, and illegitimate children abound. Each of the stories is narrated by a different character, yet all the speakers sound the same. The message is that there are no individuals on Grand Avenue; everyone is related by blood and guilt. A particularly good example is “Joy Ride,” a tale of a good husband undone by a teenaged temptress. Many of the stories are narrated by middle-aged women, sisters or half-sisters. Surprisingly, timely doses of dark humor and human hope imbue this collection by the author of Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream (LJ 8/94) with a sort of true joy.” –Library Journal, James B. Hemesath


Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream (1994) – biography

A world-renowned Pomo basket weaver and medicine woman, Mabel McKay expressed her genius through her celebrated baskets, her Dreams, her cures, and the stories with which she kept her culture alive. She spent her life teaching others how the spirit speaks through the Dream, how the spirit heals, and how the spirit demands to be heard. Greg Sarris weaves together stories from Mabel McKay’s life with an account of how he tried, and she resisted, telling her story straight–the white people’s way. Sarris, an Indian of mixed-blood heritage, finds his own story in his search for Mabel McKay’s. Beautifully narrated, Weaving the Dream initiates the reader into Pomo culture and demonstrates how a woman who worked most of her life in a cannery could become a great healer and an artist whose baskets were collected by the Smithsonian.

Hearing Mabel McKay’s life story, we see that distinctions between material and spiritual, and between mundane and magical, disappear. What remains is a timeless way of healing, of making art, and of being in the world.

“In among the most dramatic one-two literary genre punches in recent memory (Toni Morrison’s simultaneous 1992 publication of “Jazz” and “Playing in the Dark” comes to mind), Greg Sarris, a professor of English at UCLA and himself a mixture of California ethnicities (Filipino, Jewish, Miwok), has written a dazzling pair of books, one superb fiction, the other a mesmerizing interplay of biography and autobiography. Read individually, each is a spotlight trained on the complexity, sadness, humor and strength of modern Pomo people; read in tandem, they vault Sarris’ subjects–and the author himself–into brilliant, enduring relief.” –Michael Dorris, Los Angeles Times

“Wonderful, and urgently needed in these days of confusion over Native American identity and spirituality. . . . Vibrant testimony to the survival of American Indians and the power of the old spirits.” –Leslie Marmon Silko

“All the lean wit of a Castaneda tale, the lyric spark of the Black Elk translations, Weaving the Dream is a modern-day Indian classic.” –Kenneth Lincoln, author of The Good Red Road


The Sound of Rattles and Clappers: a Collection of New California Indian Writing (1994) – editor and contributor

In this anthology of poetry and fiction, ten Native Americans of California Indian ancestry illuminate aspects of their respective native cultures in works characterized by a profound love of place and people, as well as by anger over political oppression and social problems.


Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts (1993) – essays

This remarkable collection of eight essays offers a rare perspective on the issue of cross-cultural communication. Greg Sarris is concerned with American Indian texts, both oral and written, as well as with other American Indian cultural phenomena such as basketry and religion. His essays cover a range of topics that include orality, art, literary criticism, and pedagogy, and demonstrate that people can see more than just “what things seem to be.” Throughout, he asks: How can we read across cultures so as to encourage communication rather than to close it down?

Sarris maintains that cultural practices can be understood only in their living, changing contexts. Central to his approach is an understanding of storytelling, a practice that embodies all the indeterminateness, structural looseness, multivalence, and richness of culture itself. He describes encounters between his Indian aunts and Euro-American students, and the challenge of reading in a reservation classroom. He brings the reports of earlier ethnographers out of museums and into the light of contemporary literary and anthropological theory.

Sarris’ perspective is exceptional: son of a Coast Miwok/Pomo father and a Jewish mother, he was raised by Mabel McKay–a renowned Cache Creek Pomo basket weaver and medicine woman–and by others, Indian and non-Indian, in Santa Rosa, California. Educated at Stanford, he is now a university professor and recently became Chairman of the Federated Coast Miwok tribe. His own story is woven into these essays and provides valuable insights for anyone interested in cross-cultural communication, including educators, theorists of language and culture, and general readers.

“This stunning collection puts humanity and mystery back into the text where they profoundly belong. . . . A must for any serious student of native literatures, or for any serious student of life.” –Joy Harjo, poet, author of In Mad Love and War

“A wonderful, empowering book.” –Michael M.J. Fischer, co-author of Anthropology as Cultural Critique

Greg Sarris in Film & TV

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“Grand Avenue” (1996)

Visit Greg Sarris’ IMDB page.

An HBO Original Series written and produced by Greg Sarris, executive producer Robert Redford. Based on the book by Greg Sarris, teleplay by Greg Sarris. Nominated for a prime time Emmy for Best Casting. Winner of the Golden Apple Award from the National Educational Media Network. Winner of the Best Feature Film award at the American Indian Film Festival.

Grand Avenue (1996) Plot Summary:

After her boyfriend, Jack dies on his reservation, Mollie is asked by tribe members to leave the reservation for not being one of their own. With a heavy heart, Mollie is forced to pack her children, belongings and memories and move to northern California, right into a gang infested neighborhood.

“This powerful dramatic series tells the story of several generations of American Indians, Portuguese, Mexicans and African Americans who reside on Grand Avenue in real-life Santa Rosa, California. Based on the best-selling book by the same name, Greg Sarris takes the viewer deep inside the compelling world of multicultural America in the 21st Century.” –Jed Riffe, Amazon

“Grand Avenue received little media attention when it first aired this past summer. To say that the two part dramatic mini-series, produced by HBO, caught many off guard is a vast understatement: Grand Avenue scored HBO’s highest ratings in over a year as well as setting a precedent by bringing Native Americans into the 1990’s.” –Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)

Greg Sarris on Stage

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“How A Mountain Was Made”, Word for Word Performing Arts Company at Z Space, San Francisco, CA (2012)

“How A Mountain Was Made”, Greg’s children’s stories, to be published soon under the title “How A Mountain Was Made” were recently performed in 2012 by the Word for Word Performing Arts Company at Z Space in San Francisco. Greg Sarris has also written plays for Pieces of the Quilt, Intersection Theatre, and the Mark Taper Forum.

“Mission Indians”, Intersection Theatre, San Francisco, CA (2002)

A play written by Greg Sarris. Opened at the Intersection Theatre in San Francisco, February, 2002. Received the 2003 Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Best Script. HBO Miniseries.

Non Fiction work by Greg Sarris

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Maria Evangeliste

Her name was Maria, which was what the priest at St. Rose Church called all of the Indian girls, even this girl Maria Evangeliste, who ironed his vestments and each Sunday played the violin so beautifully as the communicants marched to the altar to receive the sacraments that Jesus was said to smile down from the rafters at the dispensation of his body and blood.

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His name was Mr. Cortese, and with the way he peeked around the corner of the old
barn when we went to see him, only his small dark face visible, his very long fingers clasped to
the sideboards, he made us think of a lizard, or at least he made me think of a lizard, and now,
many years later, I am there once more, seeing him for the first time. also see article in Bay Nature

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Fidel’s Place

Three days after the Indian — I’ll call him Fidel — avenged the assault on his wife and
slayed the young rancher who’d committed the horrible deed, the posse of vigilantes pursuing
him found him, not near the small settlement of Marshall, but across Tomales Bay on a ridge;
and not in a thicket of coyote brush and low-growing fir where he might’ve hidden, but in the
middle of an open grassland. also see article in Bay Nature

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On Sacred Places

Tom Smith. A simple name. Not so the man. My great-great-grand-father. Father and grandfather and great-grandfather to many Coast Miwok and Pomo people. I’ve told stories about him, stories I have heard, stories others tell: how he performed miracles healing the sick and built the last traditional Coast Miwok roundhouse on the point at Jenner, above the mouth of the Russian River, and orchestrated time immemorial Coast Miwok ceremonies there; how he charmed women with songs gathered like abalone from special rocks under the waters of Bodega Bay; also see article in Bay Nature

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Not ancient stories about the time, before this one, when the animals were still people, before Coyote messed things up with his hapless machinations. Nor the dark room, warm but still black as the cold, mid-winter night outside, with nothing but the floating voice of the story teller impersonating the people in the stories…

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Mabel McKay, renowned Pomo basket weaver and doctor, she told me about this, too. Spring. “Coming out time,” she said. Which was how the season was described, quite literally, by many Native California cultures….

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Something about the glare of noon. Or nearabouts noon because summertime that hour feels like eternity, the essence of the season itself, halfway between here and there, stopped. Something about the stillness of light, and the motionless surface of the green river. On a dry path above the water even the orange-flowering monkey plant and sticky-leafed mountain balm appear to be waiting, as if for the sun to move again. Until an osprey breaks out of the sky, silver body and black-tipped wings, coursing the snaking path of the river.

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Mrs. Ianucci, the babysitter, had a scar that, as I remember it, resembled in shape and dimension the continent of South America. She had stepped into her backyard, no doubt hearing dogs bark, to see what was going on, and had thought in her haste only to button the top button of her sleeveless blouse, and there it was, emblazoned like a tattoo atop her protruding hard stomach, the purple scar. Behind her the canopy of a weeping willow fell like a curtain. It was morning. In the bright light she looked as if she were on a stage, alone and there for me to see.
“None of the chickens are out, are

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The Last Woman from Petaluma

Her Indian name, or at least one of her Indian names, the only one any of us know, was Tsupu. She was my great-great-grandfather’s mother, or my great-great-great grandmother, and, again as far as any of us know, the last native of Petaluma, not the city we know today, but the ancient Coast Miwok village of the same name. Certainly, she was the last to pass down any memory of the place. She was quite young, perhaps fourteen, when she left, beginning what would become a chaotic, wholly incredible journey to find and keep a home in and about Sonoma County.

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Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream – Preface

“Everything’s going to burn,” Mabel said. “That’s what I see now.”
She was looking at the very dry, late September hills near Highway 80, just east of Fairfield. We were on our way back to the Rumsey Wintun Reservation, where Mabel was living at the time, after she’d given a talk to several students and faculty at Stanford University about her doctoring and basket weaving.

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On the 190th Anniversary of the San Rafael Mission

A little over a month ago, on December 15, while driving from my home on Sonoma Mountain to San Rafael, where a gala was scheduled at the reconstituted San Rafael Mission, now a cathedral, celebrating the mission’s 190th anniversary, I found myself thinking, not of my planned keynote address, but of a Coast Miwok boy in jail.

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Children Stories by Greg Sarris

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In addition to operating as the primary advisor and Chairman of The Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, Greg Sarris has also written and developed stories for children. Greg Sarris’ collection of stories are inspired by the creation of Coast Miwok & Southern Pomo, the sacred site of Sonoma Mountains, the plain of Santa Rosa, Copeland Creek. Children will delight in wonderful stories about Coyote, Warm Wind, Centipede, Lizard & Frog Woman and more.

How a Mountain Was Made, Novels by Greg Sarris

Read How a Mountain Was Made by Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris. This inspirational story provides motivation and inspiration.

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Greg Sarris Public Speaking

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In an effort to restore and rebuild, Greg Sarris has a passion for changing lives and and creating a strong impact within the Graton Rancheria Tribe and surrounding neighborhoods. Read articles and speeches about Greg’s dedication to make a positive impact in the community here.

37th Annual California Conference on American Indian Education March 2014

The 37th Annual California Conference on American Indian Education (CCAIE) is being held March 16-18, 2014, at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa in Santa Rosa, CA.

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Game Changers, North Bay Business Journal 2013

When the first jackpot hits at the new Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park later this fall, there’ll be more than just one winner.

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Greg Sarris Speech, Pomo Heritage Week October 2010

Learn about Southern Pomo Heritage through Greg Sarris’s speech at the Sebastopol Community Center. Greg speaks of the connection between Southern Pomo and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

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The Charmstones of Tolay Lake

A relative told me that when she saw Tom’s Smith’s charmstone, she was temporarily blinded and felt instantly faint-its power was that overwhelming. The charmstone, an oblong, smoothly carved rock figure, about an inch and a half in length, was loosed from Tom Smith’s “doctoring kit,” which had been stored in a drawer at UC Berkeley’s Lowie Museum for decades following his death in 1934.

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Against the Odds, Stanford Magazine 2013

In discovering his own identity, Greg Sarris helped a scattered Indian tribe reassert theirs.

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“How Did We Get Here?” Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Newsletter for July, 2013

So often these days people ask me, “How did you do it — how did you get the land into Trust, get a compact signed by the Governor and ratified by the state legislature, raise nearly a billion dollars, and have the largest Indian resort/casino ready to open — all in under three years?”

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Greg Sarris Speech, Pomo Heritage Week October 2010

Learn about Southern Pomo Heritage through Greg Sarris’s speech at the Sebastopol Community Center. Greg speaks of the connection between Southern Pomo and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

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