Roberta Hill Whiteman

b. 1947

Roberta Hill Whiteman, a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage, is the author of Star Quilt, a poetry collection which integrates her ancestral culture with European-based approaches to verse. Whiteman grew up in Wisconsin among the Oneida community and also in Green Bay; the family moved between the two locales several times. In previous centuries the Oneida were forced to make a series of moves that displaced them from their ancestral lands in New York State. By the twentieth century the tribe was scattered throughout various parcels of land in the United States and Canada.

A sense of dispossession engendered by forced migration has long been a part of Oneida culture, and this attitude is evident in Whiteman's poetry. The selections in Star Quilt are centered around the concepts of six basic directions—north, south, east, west, the sky, and the earth. The works are written in the iambic form, a rhythmic structure common to the poetry of western civilization. One poem, "Women Seed Player," is based on a modernist painting by Dakota artist Oscar Howe. Other works speak to Whiteman's children and future generations of Oneida.

Whiteman credits the influence of other contemporary Native American writers as well as her musician father and well-read grandmother for instilling her work with its own rhythms and confidence. Commenting on both historical displacement as well as her family's own transient nature in Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, Whiteman stated: "For most of my life I felt this sense of exile and alienation and a fear.... But there is this sense of home and of completeness that I also feel. Somehow I think that part of the writing is to set the record straight—for myself, to explain things for myself as if I were still a child inside."

Career

Instructor for Poets-in-the-Schools Program at various locales, including Minnesota, Arizona, and Oklahoma; University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, instructor of American literature.

Bibliography

  • Star Quilt (poetry), illustrated by Ernest Whiteman, Holy Cow! Press, 1984.
  • Philadelphia Flowers: Poems, Holy Cow! Press (Duluth, MN), 1996.

Work represented in Carriers of the Dream Wheel: Contemporary Native American Poetry, edited by Duane Niatum, Harper, 1975,The Third Woman: Minority Women Writers of the United States, edited by Dexter Fisher, Houghton, 1980, and Harper's Anthology of Twentieth Century Native American Poetry, edited by Niatum, Harper, 1988.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Bruchac, Joseph, Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, Sun Tracks/University of Arizona Press, 1987.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

LIFE SPAN 1947–

Biography

Roberta Hill Whiteman, a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage, is the author of Star Quilt, a poetry collection which integrates her ancestral culture with European-based approaches to verse. Whiteman grew up in Wisconsin among the Oneida community and also in Green Bay; the family moved between the two locales several times. In previous centuries the Oneida were forced to make a series of moves that displaced them from their . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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