E. Donald Two-Rivers
E. Donald Two-Rivers (a.k.a. Eddie Two-Rivers) was an Anishinaabe writer known less for his media output than for his persistent and public solidarity with the Native American nations and their self-reliance. He was a regular presence among open mic readings in Chicago through the 1990s and into the following decade, and earned featured readings at esteemed literary presenters in the city, such as the Guild Complex.
Two-Rivers had been active in Native American causes since the 1970s, and was a visible advocate for the American Indian Movement. In 1997, he promoted the formation of Red Path Theater in Chicago. The Theater presented works on the Native American condition. It resided for a time at the American Indian Center on west Wilson Street, near Chicago's Uptown. It also functioned at Truman College, only a few blocks east. As another Red Path co-founder stated, the company sought to bring out the stories of Native people in their own voices, because, "... [we] believe that until we do this for ourselves we will never see the stories presented that truly reflect American Indian views. The Red Path Theater company is about writing our own stories, playing our own roles and presenting them to our audience of all cultures."
The urban setting for Red Path contrasts vividly with the common assumption that Native Americans live exclusively in rural, undeveloped lands. Such an assumption agrees somewhat with Two-Rivers origins in northern Ontario, but much of his life was spent in Chicago. Two-Rivers' adulthood was steeped in the urban problems of late 20th Century. So, for survival's sake, being a passive Indian was not a solution for Two-Rivers. He committed himself to telling American Indian stories with vigor and authenticity, and taking the White Man out of the narration that he had once controled.
Two-Rivers' own life was difficult, mitigated by racism and classism, then by legal and ultimately health issues. Two-Rivers died from liver disease in December 2008. He gave the world a written legacy, such as his poetry books A Dozen Cold Ones (March-Abrazo Press, 1992) and Powwows, Fat Cats, and Other Indian Tales (Mammoth Publications, 1997); an anthology of short stories, Survivor's Medicine (University of Oklahoma Press,1998), which won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in 1999; and over a dozen plays, some of which are anthologized in Briefcase Warriors: Stories for the Stage (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2001). He also left behind a long shadow in the consciences of writers who knew him and his performances first hand.
More information on E. Donald Two-Rivers can be found at his publishers, March Abrazo Press and Mammoth Publications. Audio recordings of Two-Rivers reading his own work are available at poetrypoetry.com.
- Kurt Heintz, 2012