Authors: Thomas King

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Identity: American Indian (Cherokee)

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Medicine River, 1990

Green Grass, Running Water, 1993

Truth and Bright Water, 1999

Short Fiction:

One Good Story, That One, 1993

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

A Coyote Columbus Story, 1992

Coyote Sings to the Moon, 2001

Edited Text:

All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction, 1990


Thomas King was born to Robert Elvin King, a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, and Katheryn Konsonlas King, a Greek American. His father left the family when Thomas was five, and he and his brother, Christopher, were raised by their mother in Roseville, California. Upon graduation from Roseville High School, King worked at odd jobs, including those of ambulance driver and gambling croupier. He attended Sacramento State College from 1961 to 1962 and Sierra Junior College from 1962 to 1964, after which he worked his way to Australia and New Zealand and was employed there as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 1967 and took a job as a draftsman at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. The following year he enrolled at California State College, Chico, because his mother had gone there. He graduated in 1970, with a B.A. in English. That year he married Kristine Adams. They had a son, Christian, in 1971.{$I[A]King, Thomas}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;King, Thomas}{$I[geo]AMERICAN INDIAN;King, Thomas}{$I[tim]1943;King, Thomas}

At that point, King embarked upon a series of academic jobs, beginning as a counselor for American Indian students at the University of Utah and soon moving up to director of the new Native Studies Department. While working at Utah, he obtained an M.A. in English from his undergraduate alma mater in Chico. In 1973 he moved on to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where he was an associate dean for student services.

In 1977 King returned to the University of Utah, to work as coordinator of the History of the Indians of the Americas project. In 1979 he moved to Canada to take a position as chair of the Native Studies Department and remained there for the next ten years. His marriage ended in 1981. In 1986 he received a doctorate in English and American studies from the University of Utah; his dissertation was titled “Inventing the Indian: White Images, Native Oral Traditions, and Contemporary Native Writers.” Also in the 1980’s he and his partner, Helen Hoy, had two children: Benjamin Hoy (born in 1985) and Elizabeth King (1988).

In 1987 King began publishing short stories in magazines and anthologies. In 1989 he returned to the United States, taking a position as associate professor of American and Native studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In 1990 King published his first novel, Medicine River, set at a Blackfoot reservation in Alberta, Canada, and edited All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction. In 1992 King published his first children’s book, A Coyote Columbus Story; it won the Canadian Governor-General’s Award for that year.

In 1993-1994 he took a leave of absence for the academic year to work as a story editor for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, where he wrote the teleplay for the adaptation of his novel Medicine River. Also in 1993, King published his best-known novel, the satirical Green Grass, Running Water, and a short-story collection, One Good Story, That One. In 1995 he returned to Canada with his partner and children. He took an academic appointment at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Thomas King is an important figure in American Indian literature. He once noted with some amusement that, because he lives and teaches in Canada, he is often called a Canadian Native writer, though he was born in the United States and those of his tribe, the Cherokee, are not native to Canada. In his work, his primary subject is cultural clash: The American Indians, with their traditional culture and communal values, are sneered at and ignored, if not simply conquered, by the white invaders, but they triumph through wit, cleverness, and resourcefulness (often represented in King’s fiction by the figure of the trickster in American Indian lore, Coyote).

BibliographyAtwood, Margaret. “A Double-Bladed Knife: Subversive Laughter in Two Stories by Thomas King.” Canadian Literature 124/125 (Summer/Spring, 1990): 243-250. Atwood praises “Joe the Painter and the Deer Island Massacre” and “One Good Story, That One” for their timing, their wit, and their inventive narrative structure.Donaldson, Laura. “Noah Meets Old Coyote: Or, Singing in the Rain, Intertextuality in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” SAIL: Studies in American Indian Literature 7 (Summer, 1995): 27-43. A view of the book as a conflict of narratives, as when a hero of American Indian trickster tales “colorizes” a John Wayne cowboy movie by changing it so the people of color win.Ruppert, James. “Thomas King.” In Native American Writers of the United States. Vol. 175 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1997. A literary and biographical study.The World & I 8 (June, 1993). This issue is largely devoted to King’s fiction, particularly Green Grass, Running Water, which had just been published. Articles include “Setting the Story Straight,” by Elizabeth Blair (pp. 284-295); “When Coyote Dreams,” by James Ruppert (pp. 297-305); and an interview with King (pp. 306-309).
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