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Black Elk

John G. Neihardt (from left), Nicholas Black Elk and Standing Bear of the Oglala Sioux meet during an interview session for "Black Elk Speaks" in Manderson, S.D., in May 1933.

The University of Nebraska Press will once again publish a literary classic written by Nebraska’s first poet laureate, the university announced Tuesday.

Written by John G. Neihardt, “Black Elk Speaks” remains the NU Press’ bestselling book, having sold nearly 900,000 copies from 1961 to 2008. The 1932 book is about the life of Lakota holy man Nicholas Black Elk.

In 2008, the State University of New York Press began publishing the book after former NU Press Director Gary Dunham joined that publisher and secured the book’s publishing rights from the Neihardt family. When Dunham left SUNY Press several years later, the book’s fate became uncertain as the contract with the publisher neared its 2013 expiration date.

NU Press Director Donna Shear said she never gave up on reacquiring the book’s publishing rights from the Neihardt family. The new contract with the Neihardt Trust will commence in November, and the NU Press plans to publish a new edition of “Black Elks Speaks” with new material in February.

“We are over the moon,” she said. “We are very, very, very excited. We feel like this is where ‘Black Elk Speaks’ belongs.”

The book’s return will be the catalyst for a number of specially commissioned Neihardt books, including annotated editions of his most significant work, “Cycle of the West,” as well as “Eagle Voice Remembers.”

“Based on the foundational nature of ‘Black Elk Speaks,’ our press will continue its proud heritage as one of the leading publishers of works of enduring significance in the fields of Native Studies and the American West,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman in a news release.

Neihardt’s literary significance cannot be overstated, Shear said, and UNL has long been home to Neihardt’s greatest poetry and prose.

The NU Press is negotiating with SUNY Press to take over publishing rights to other Neihardt titles as well, including “Indian Tales and Others,” an anthology of short stories, Shear said.

“We’re in negotiations for the return of the rest of the books,” she said.

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Coralie Hughes, Neihardt’s granddaughter and primary trustee of the Neihardt Trust, said she was pleased to have the NU Press again start publishing “Black Elk Speaks.”

“The expertise and talent that resides within the press provides me, and the trust, with a profound sense of confidence that his complete body of work will be given its proper attention,” she said in a news release.

A poet and author, Neihardt (1881–1973) graduated from Nebraska Normal College (now Wayne State College) in 1897. He moved to Bancroft four years later. In 1921, the Nebraska Legislature honored him as the state’s first poet laureate.

In 1930, Neihardt met Black Elk, who told Neihardt of his life. These conversations led to Neihardt writing “Black Elk Speaks,” which eventually became one of the most influential books about Native culture and religion ever published.

“We’re just looking forward to having it back under our roof,” Shear said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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