This past week the author of the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, Kevin Noble Maillard, joined us to talk about the making of his book. Maillard talked with us about his writing process, read Fry Bread to us and shared some of his family stories around fry bread. 

In addition to participating in our Little Read author event, Maillard also had an article about fry bread published in The New York Times. This timing couldn’t have been more perfect for our Lakeshore community (perhaps we should consider The New York Times one of our Little Read media partners?!).

In this article, Maillard reflects,

“Fry bread is one of those beloved yet divisive family foods. As with potato salad or matzo ball soup, often the only thing people can agree on is that everyone else is wrong. In Indigenous cultures, fry bread can inspire fierce clashes over ingredients and judgmental whispering about technique. But it is also the subject of more serious academic disputes about the dish’s colonial origins and health implications.” 

Hope College’s Phelps Dining Hall served fry bread and Navajo tacos this week for the community to enjoy.

In the back matter of his book Fry Bread, Maillard describes how fry bread is a simple dish made of flour, salt, baking powder, and oil. It has its origins when the United States Government pushed Native Americans onto reservations, and Native American families had to improvise with the food they had. As a relic of colonial This is one of the reasons that fry bread became a popular dish. It also made it possible for there to be so many variations in recipes and techniques when making fry bread. Fry Bread came out of a painful experience.

While some Native Americans see fry bread as “the antithesis of Indigenous vitality” others see it exactly as that – as a beauty and rich family food tradition that came out of a painful past and that speaks to the resilience and vitality of Native Americans. Maillard concludes that these differing views mirrors the story of a diverse and vibrant Native America.

Thoughts from Hope College Student, Isabella Smith  

What do I like about Fry Bread?

It has been a joy getting to experience a new kind of story. It is more than just a telling of a story or a creation, but Fry Bread provides an experience to teach about the culture and love that goes into the foundation of the delicacy. I knew parts of Native American history from my education, but I have not been exposed to much of the culture.

Fry Bread is seen and heard.

Maillard and Martinez-Neal came together and made all parts of fry bread come to life. Through the story and the textured illustrations, I can not only see the fry bread, but the process of making the delicacy. “Flat like a pancake / Round like a ball / Or puffy like Nana’s softest pillow.” They are different shades of color and filled with various flavors to make each batch unique. I learned that I can’t just try fry bread once; I need to try them all!

Fry Bread is a hidden culture.

I love the history that is not deliberately told through Fry Bread but described. Fry bread is time, place, art, nation, etc. because it is an all-encompassed item throughout Native American history. I love how I can see how fry bread traveled through time and tradition. 

Fry Bread encourages me to consider what is my fry bread.

At the end of the book, it says, “Fry bread is you.” This made me wonder what my “fry bread” would be. Coming from a Bolivian family, music has always been a part of my life. I am not as familiar with what most people would consider the classics, but I cherish the fact that I have been surrounded by music throughout various aspects of my life.

Thank you Isabella for your thoughtful reflections on Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread. To our readers, I would invite everyone to learn something about Native American culture and reach into considering what their “fry bread” is. What is your family’s “fry bread”? Tell us in the comments.

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