Paula Gunn Allen

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Paula Marie Gunn Allen (Francis)

Birthplace: Cubero Land Grant, New Mexico, United States
Death: May 29, 2008 (68)
Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Elias Lee Francis and Laura Ethel Haines
Ex-wife of Unknown Brown and Joe Charles Allen
Mother of Eugene John Brown; Private User; Private and Suleiman Ali Allen
Sister of Lee Francis; Private; Private and Private

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Paula Gunn Allen

Paula Gunn Allen (October 24, 1939 – May 29, 2008) was a Native American poet, literary critic, activist, professor, and novelist. Of mixed-race European-American, Native American, and Arab-American descent, she identified with the Laguna Pueblo of her childhood years, the culture in which she had grown up. She drew from its oral traditions for her fiction poetry and also wrote numerous essays on its themes. She edited four collections of Native American traditional stories and contemporary works and wrote two biographies of Native American women.

In addition to her literary work, in 1986 she published a major study on the role of women in American Indian traditions, arguing that Europeans had de-emphasized the role of women in their accounts of native life because of their own patriarchal societies. It stimulated other scholarly work by feminist and Native American writers.


Born Paula Marie Francis in Albuquerque, New Mexico Allen grew up in Cubero, New Mexico, a Spanish-Mexican land grant village bordering the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Of mixed Laguna, Sioux, Scottish, and Lebanese-American descent, Allen always identified most closely with the Laguna, among whom she spent her childhood and upbringing.

Her father, E. Lee Francis, owned a local store, the Cubero Trading Company, and later served as the lieutenant governor of New Mexico from 1967 to 1970. Her brother, Lee Francis, was a Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe poet, storyteller, and educator.

Allen first went to a mission school and graduated in 1957 from a boarding school called the "Sisters of Charity" located in Albuquerque.

Allen received a BA and MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon. She earned a PhD at the University of New Mexico, where she worked as a professor and began research on tribal religions. As a student at the University of New Mexico, she reached out to a poetry professor, Robert Creeley, for poetic advice. He directed her to the work of Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov, who all had strong influences on her work. Later, while a student at University of Oregon she had Ralph Salisbury as a poetry professor, who is of a Cherokee tribe and also had a heavy influence on Paula Gunn Allen.

Professor Allen taught at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, the College of San Mateo, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles. She taught at UCLA from 1990 to 1999 as a professor of the English department and the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

Anthropological writings

Based on her own experiences and her study of Native American cultures, Paula Gunn Allen wrote The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986). This groundbreaking work argued that the dominant cultural view of Native American societies was biased and that European explorers and colonizers understood Native Peoples through the patriarchal lens. Gunn described the central role women played in many Native American cultures, including roles in political leadership, which were either downplayed or missed entirely by explorers and scholars from male-dominated European cultures. Allen argued that most Native Americans at the time of European contact were matrifocal and egalitarian with only a small percentage reflecting the European patriarchal pattern.

Allen's arguments and research were criticized by more mainstream scholars, as well as by author and critic Gerald Vizenor, who accused her of "a simple reversal of essentialism". The American Indian Movement ("AIM") has itself been criticized by feminists as being sexist. In spite of this, Allen's book and subsequent work has proved highly influential, encouraging other feminist studies of Native American cultures and literature, including an emergence of Indigenous feminism. It remains a classic text of Native American Studies and Women's Studies programs.

Literary career

Allen is well known as a novelist, poet and short story writer. Her work drew heavily on the Pueblo tales of Grandmother Spider and the Corn Maiden. It is noted for its strong political connotations. Critics have noted that Leslie Marmon Silko, also of Laguna descent, also draws on these traditional tales.

Her novel, The Woman Who Owned The Shadows (1983), features the woman Ephanie Atencio, the mixed-blood daughter of a mixed-blood mother who struggles with social exclusion and the obliteration of self.

As a poet, Allen published a collection of more than 30 years of work: Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962-1995, judged to be her most successful. Allen's work is often categorized as belonging to the Native American Renaissance, but the author rejects the label.


Allen was awarded an American Book Award in 1990 by the Before Columbus Foundation, for editing short stories by American Indian writers, the Hubbell Medal, the Native American Prize for Literature, the Susan Koppelman Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas in 2001. In 1999, the Modern Language Association awarded her the J. Hubbell Medal for American Literature.

Personal life

Allen's father, E. Lee Fancis, was Lebanese American and her mother, Laguna Pueblo, was Scotch-Laguna. One of Allen's sisters, Carol Lee Sanchez, was a Laguna writer. She was also related to Leslie Marmon Silko. Allen was in two different marriages and divorced both times.[19] Two of Allen's children preceded her in death, Fuad Ali Allen, and Eugene John Brown. Son Fuad Ali Allen died in 1972 and her other son Eugene John Brown died in 2001. She was survived by two children, Lauralee Brown and Suleiman Allen.


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Paula Gunn Allen's Timeline

October 24, 1939
Cubero Land Grant, New Mexico, United States
May 29, 2008
Age 68
Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California, United States