Lake Elmo resident publishes historical Ojibwe novel


Lorin Robinson

submitted photo • “The 13: Ashi-niswi,” by Lake Elmo author Lorin Robinson, is a historical fiction novel based on an old Ojibwe story about 13 teenagers seeking to restore the honor of their band after a devastating raid by their enemy, the Dakota. Robinson will read from his book on Thursday, July 19, at 7 p.m. at SubText Books, located at 6 West Fifth St., St. Paul.

Reading to be held July 19

 

Lake Elmo author Lorin Robinson breathed new life into a historic Ojibwe tale in his recently published novel, “The 13: Ashi-niswi.”

The historical fiction novel is a retelling of an old Ojibwe story about 13 teenagers seeking to restore the honor of their band after a devastating raid by their enemy, the Dakota. Robinson describes the tale as a coming-of-age story and a parable that asks, “What is the price of honor?”

Robinson explains that he chose to set the novel in “a time before time” in order to tell the story in its purest form, before white people arrived in North America, bringing with them a different worldview as well as new diseases, alcohol, guns and even clocks.

“The Native Americans known today as Ojibwe and Sioux are referred to in the book as Anishinaabe and Dakota — as they were known before being renamed by French fur traders,” Robinson says.

He explains that the novel is set after the Anishinaabe migrated from their home on the shores of the Atlantic near the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the southern shore of Lake Superior, where they found wild rice, a prophesized “food that grew upon the water.” However, this land was already inhabited by the Dakota. Over centuries, the Anishinaabe drove their fierce opponent south, out of the territory. 

“It’s this long-running and bloody conflict that provides the historical backdrop for ‘The 13: Ashi-niswi,’” Robinson says.

 

Researching for historical fiction

The idea for the book came to Robinson years ago by way of a friend and fellow University of Wisconsin-River Falls faculty member, historian Dr. Walker Wyman, who had a special interest in folklore.

“One evening at a cocktail party about 35 years ago he told me the story of the 13,” Robinson says. “He had just a brief, sketchy outline of what it was about, and yet the story struck me as being really powerful and potentially one that would be worth looking into in more depth and detail for a possible novel someday.”

More than 30 years passed before Robinson circled back to the idea. When he finally did begin work on the novel, he had very little information to work from. Wyman never ended up researching the story further, and Robinson himself had no prior background in Native American history.

“I had to start from scratch essentially to learn about the culture, the history, the language and all of the ceremony life or other aspects of the culture,” Robinson says.

He adds that to ensure cultural accuracy and avoid cultural insensitivity, the manuscript was reviewed by an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe. He acknowledges that there may be concerns about cultural appropriation when writing about a culture not of his own. 

“There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the appropriateness of writers stepping outside of their own ethinicity to write fiction about other races,” Robinson says. 

He says that while he would never write a modern fiction novel focusing on a race other than his own because he doesn’t have the experience, he views historical fiction, like his new novel, differently. 

“The historical and cultural information upon which it is based is available to any writer who has the interest, ability and commitment to do the necessary research,” he says

 

Crafting an author out of a journalist

Robinson worked as a journalism professor at both the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of St. Thomas. He also worked as a marketing and communications professional for 3M Company. 

Although he didn’t begin his career as an author until after he retired from his teaching and business careers, Robinson says his prior writing experience has shaped how he writes fiction.

“The shift to fiction might seem like a big jump, but it really wasn’t for me,” Robinson says, explaining that his journalism experience helped him to be a thorough and quick researcher, ask the right questions and craft realistic dialogue.

Robinson’s first two books are climate fiction, which he says reflect his concern about global warming. 

“They’re based on the scientific predictions of climate science and earth science, but they’re fiction, and in them I tried to imagine the human impact of the changes that are happening and/or coming around the world over time,” Robinson says.

He explains that after writing two books on climate change, he was ready for a change, and acknowledges that “The 13: Ashi-niswi,” is a major shift in his writing.

 

Finding the book

Available reviews of “The 13: Ashi-niswi” are favorable, and the book, published by Open Books, has been available since May.

Midwest Book Review called it “a gripping adventure” and “a delightful work of historical fiction,” and the book has earned five out of five stars on Amazon.com.

A reading from “The 13: Ashi-niswi” will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, at SubText Books, located at 6 West Fifth St., St. Paul, and though none are scheduled yet, Robinson says he expects there to be other readings in area bookstores and libraries this summer.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the reading, and paperback and e-book editions can also be ordered from all online book retailers or at area bookstores.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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