In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic put everyone’s life on hold, Carolann Duro decided to get busy. Duro, who is of Maara’Yam (Serrano), Kumeyaay, and white descent, turned the quarantine into an opportunity to better educate herself about Native American literature.
“I wanted to challenge myself to read more Native authors’ literature because I realized that a lot of what I had previously read was really academic,” says Duro, a graduate of Scripps College in Claremont. “I hadn’t read any fiction or novels that had a Native character or that was written by a Native author. Then when I shared a list on my YouTube channel, someone suggested turning it into a book club. That’s when I started to get familiar with what was going on in the publishing industry. And I saw a really big push for more diverse authors. So there are a lot of opportunities, now more than ever, for Native people to write stories. About us and for us.”
Her efforts ultimately evolved into Quiet Quail Books, an online and pop-up bookstore that specializes in works by Indigenous authors. Whether you’re looking for fiction or nonfiction works by Native American authors, including such prominent California writers as Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris and Pulitzer Prize finalist Tommy Orange, Duro’s thoughtfully curated selection is filled with discoveries.
A Writing Renaissance, an Early Inspiration
Duro believes that a renaissance in Indigenous writing is now underway, as more authors get published and their voices reach new audiences. “I’ve definitely seen more Native fiction and novels now—compared to my dad’s time. He was born in 1946 and had never read the kinds of works we’re reading today,” she says. “Just comparing his generation to mine, you can see a massive difference in Native publishing.”
“And my dad is a big inspiration for why I love reading so much. He grew up in a generation when going to college was not even in the realm of possibility for Native folks. It was more important to get out of poverty and focus on getting employment…My favorite thing that I hear from him is how even if he reads a story from a tribe that’s all the way across the United States, like in Minnesota when we’re reading Chippewa, he can still find the similarities. Because we all have the same love and appreciation for the land and the living beings that are among us.”
Duro is also encouraged by the collection of works by Native trans authors and poets, as well as the wide array of Indigenous LGBTQ writers, especially during a time when she says trans and Queer rights are under increasing attack. At the Indigenous Pride event in Los Angeles, Duro showcased a table of works by Queer Native authors and was encouraged by the positive reaction: “It was really incredible to see that so many people loved looking at those selections.”
A Bookseller’s Journey
Duro was born and raised in the San Bernardino area, which she describes as a kind of midway point among Southern California’s diverse Native cultures. She grew up going to Pow Wows with her family, where she performed traditional bird dances. Duro learned about her traditional culture in tribal education programs and, after graduating from high school, she became “very passionate about my language” and started taking classes in Serrano. She has continued to study Serrano and works as a linguist in addition to operating Quiet Quail.
“I’ve gotten a lot more skilled over the past couple years, to the point where I can live translate some stories or tellings that I’ve listened to with my dad,” she says. “I can sustain a full conversation with my elder and ask comprehension questions if I’m not clear. But there’s still more to learn.”
Bringing Books to Readers
While she eventually hopes to open a brick-and-mortar store, a big part of Duro’s mission with Quiet Quail is to take books directly to Native American readers in Southern California. “I decided to make it a pop-up because we definitely have a book desert in Native communities, where there’s not a lot of access to literature,” she says. “Instead of putting the burden on the customer to come visit me, I visit them at Pow Wows, markets, conferences, and museums.”
Duro says she has received an overwhelmingly positive response at appearances—and a pop-up bookstore spotlighting Indigenous authors is a definite departure among the other vendors and craftspeople on the Pow Wow circuit. Parents are happy to find Native-themed books for their children and some customers even drive to events specifically to browse Duro’s offerings.
“That’s still so mind-blowing to me, it’s really sweet that they’ll do that,” says Duro. “There are also people who have no idea what’s going on and I’m brand new to them. It’s really cool for them to see that there are enough Native authors to fill up three tables and a bookshelf. They’re excited to learn more.”
Reading Native California
We asked Duro for recommendations on California-themed Native American books. Here are a few favorites, along with her comments:
Know We Are Here edited by Terria Smith
—Diverse voices across California Indian country that remind readers how present we still are in everyday life and have never left.
We Are Dancing for You by Cutcha Risling Baldy
—Informative history and contemporary revitalization of California Indian women’s coming-of-age ceremonies and how they were targeted by early settler colonization.
Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda
—Comprehensive, personal, and mixed-media look at how the California mission system impacted California’s Indigenous peoples.
Coyote at the Big Time by Lyn Risling
—Adorable children’s book that recounts the importance of the coyote across California Indian cultures.
Soldiers Unknown by Chag Lowry and Rahsan Ekedal (illustrator)
—Beautiful comic that details the unknown history of Yurok and other California Indian soldiers in World War I, before they were considered citizens.