Other works by Michael Dorris are natural extensions of a reading of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Dorris found Rayona so compelling that he continued her story in two other works: Cloud Chamber (1997), an adult novel that focuses on their ancestors in the 19th and early 20th centuries; and The Window (1997), a posthumously published novel for young adults which features Rayona at age eleven, staying with her father’s family in Kentucky while her mother tries to break a cycle of “bad nights.”
The novels Dorris wrote specifically for younger readers-Morning Girl (1992), Guests (1995), and Sees Behind Trees (1996)-make use of his ethnographic research to show historical Native American culture in family contexts. The political issues of Indian identity are raised, for example, when Dorris imagines the story of Morning Girl, the first person Christopher Columbus meets when he arrives in the West Indies; in chapters she alternates with her brother, Star Boy, this narrator’s voice is a poetic, articulate challenge to the passage from Columbus’ diary in which he conjectures that these savages might be taught to speak and to serve.
Readers may also be interested in Dorris’s collection of short stories, Working Men (1993), and his collection of essays, Paper Trail (1994). Each offers multiple perspectives on writing, Native American life, the roles of men and women, and the importance of family.
Several works by other writers might be effectively paired with A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Tillie Olsen’s short story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” offers a mother’s perspective on her own parenting and her concerns about some choices she was forced to make; it could serve as a good, brief introduction to the complex mother-daughter relationships in this work, as well as the narrative of self-debate that propels Dorris’s novel. Virginia Hamilton’s young adult novel, Arilla Sun Down, offers a different perspective on a similar situation: the central character, Arilla, comes to terms with her mixed African American and Native American heritage and her brother, Jack Sun Run. Another interesting pairing might be Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is similar in its circular storytelling style and complex picture of motherhood and racial identity.
An excerpt from A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is included in Growing up Native American, an anthology edited by Patricia Riley. Selections from this work-which includes such writers as Simon Ortiz, N. Scott Momaday, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Black Elk-offer valuable perspectives on adolescent experience in Native American cultures and could provide a rich literary and cultural context for Dorris’s novel.
Several frequently anthologized poems about Native American and women’s experience might also be paired with the novel: Adrienne Rich’s “A Woman Mourned by Daughters”; Tess Gallagher’s “I Stop Writing the Poem”; Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Where Mountain Lion Lay Down with Deer”; Louise Erdrich’s “Windigo”; Linda Hogan’s “Hunger”; Wendy Rose’s “Three Thousand Dollar Death Song”; and Nila Northsun’s “Moving Camp Too Far.”