Clark will read from his book March 23 at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Louis V. Clark III — a semi-retired 60-year-old member of the Oneida Indian Nation — spent years writing a 74,000-word book about Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame halfback Paul Hornung and the 176 points he scored during the 1960 NFL season. In January 2016, Clark sent the manuscript off to the Wisconsin Historical Society Press for consideration.
As an afterthought, Clark included a second, much-shorter manuscript — a deeply personal but wry combination of straightforward autobiographical prose and poetry about loss, identity, race and culture. The Wisconsin Historical Society Press passed on the Hornung book but recently published the other manuscript, in the form of the 120-page How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century.
The author, who lives in Omro, near Oshkosh, will read from his new book at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on March 23 at 6:30 p.m.
“The title draws in a lot of people,” says Clark, who also goes by the name Two Shoes, as in “goody.” “I hope readers will see we’re not that much different, regardless of race. So many of us deal with alcoholism in the family and a bully on the playground.”
Those two issues shaped Clark’s life. His alcoholic mother married a white man, and he was beat up for not looking like his classmates on the Oneida reservation.
“I was flat on my back, getting hit in the face/When a young man informed me, what was my race,” Clark writes in “First-Grade Lessons,” one of the many poems he penned over the years and included in the book.
Clark married at 18, had six children (college graduates all, he announces proudly), coached youth baseball for almost two decades and found decent work despite facing discrimination. It took him 25 years to earn his own college degree, attending UW-Oshkosh and Concordia University Wisconsin. Writing became a hobby, and poetry was his release, a form of catharsis.
“You can do a lot on paper just to make yourself feel better,” Clark says. “My hurts are real, and they’re severe hurts. But they’re also worth sharing. You’re always afraid to expose yourself to the world, but you have to think about whether your experiences can help someone else.”
When he was a college student in the late 1970s, professors told Clark that if he wanted to write poems that rhymed, he should make them songs and move to Nashville. But in his mind, the rhyming schemes echoed the drums of his tribal heritage, and drum imagery continues to shape much of his work.
On one of the first pages of How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century, Clark writes about boyhood memories of Fourth of July baseball games in Oneida, where drums were positioned at home plate. “Not the white man drums you hear on television, Boom, boom boom boom! Boom, boom boom boom!” he writes. “No, these drums were Indian drums beating boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, like a heartbeat, the heartbeat of my nation.”
How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century is Clark’s second published book; in 2011, the University of Arkansas and the Sequoyah National Research Center published a chapbook of his poems, Two Shoes, which won awards from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Oneida Nation Arts Board.
And there’s more on the way. “I have a lot of stuff in the works,” says Clark, who’s not giving up on that Hornung book. “I wrote a book of short stories, and a play, too. And I have enough material for another prose/poetry book — two or three of them, probably: More stories from a 21st-century Indian.”