This Friday, October 26, English alumna Susan Devan Harness will be reading from and signing her latest book, Bitterroot: A Memoir of Transracial Adoption. The event will be held at Wolverine Farm Letterpress & Publick House, 5-8 pm, and is free & open to the public.
In Bitterroot Susan Harness traces her journey to understand the complexities and struggles of being an American Indian child adopted by a white couple and living in the rural American West. When Harness was fifteen years old, she questioned her adoptive father about her “real” parents. He replied that they had died in a car accident not long after she was born—except they hadn’t, as Harness would learn in a conversation with a social worker a few years later.
Harness’s search for answers revolved around her need to ascertain why she was the target of racist remarks and why she seemed always to be on the outside looking in. New questions followed her through college and into her twenties when she started her own family. Meeting her biological family in her early thirties generated even more questions. In her forties Harness decided to get serious about finding answers when, conducting oral histories, she talked with other transracial adoptees. In her fifties she realized that the concept of “home” she had attributed to the reservation existed only in her imagination.
Making sense of her family, the American Indian history of assimilation, and the very real—but culturally constructed—concept of race helped Harness answer the often puzzling questions of stereotypes, a sense of nonbelonging, the meaning of family, and the importance of forgiveness and self-acceptance. In the process Bitterroot also provides a deep and rich context in which to experience life.
On Harness’s “About Me” page on her website, it says:
Susan Devan Harness is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Susan’s interest in transracial adoption extends well beyond the academic.
Born in Montana to a family living on the Flathead Indian Reservation, she became a transracial adoptee at the age of two when she was removed from her home by a social worker because of “neglect.” Her new book Bitteroot: A Memoir of Transracial Adoption (University of Nebraska Press), a sweeping examination of her life, explores the uneasy intersection of adopted families and first families, identities and race, against the backdrop of history and brutal governmental Indian policies. Bitterroot will be available September 2018.
Susan received her B.A. in anthropology from the University of Montana,her M.A. in cultural anthropology from Colorado State University in 2006, and her M.A. in creative nonfiction in 2016, also from Colorado State University. She is the author of Mixing Cultural Identities Through Transracial Adoption: After the Indian Adoption Project (1958-1967).
Susan currently works as a Field Director for the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research at Colorado State University on the project Using a Media Campaign to Prevent Substance Use Among Middle School Youth.
Susan is still very much involved in the topic of American Indian transracial adoption and continues to write and lecture about this topic as well as about American Indian assimilation policies and practices. Susan’s husband, Richard is a Certified Wildlife Biologist for EDM International, Inc. in Fort Collins, CO. Their two sons, Chris and Dan, live nearby with their families.
A recent review of Bitterroot says, “Harness addresses this complication in ‘Bitterroot’: What does it mean to be Native when you weren’t raised Native? What does it mean when the members of your birth family who remained on the reservation tell you that you were lucky to be raised elsewhere, but you don’t feel lucky?…Harness brings us right into the middle of these questions and shows how emotionally fraught they can be. Her story often brought me to tears.”
Harness will be reading two 20 minute excerpts from her book followed by a book signing and reception. The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of English. This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to Katie.Horton@colostate.edu.