In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section D'Arcy McNickle

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Biographies
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works

American Literature D'Arcy McNickle
Leif Sorensen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0246


William D’Arcy McNickle (b. 1904–d. 1977) was born in Saint Ignatius, Montana, to Philomene Parenteau McNickle, a Métis whose parents fled Canada after the Louis Riel rebellion of 1885, and William McNickle, a white settler from Pennsylvania. In 1905 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes adopted Philomene and the children. After their parents’ 1913 divorce, the children were sent to boarding school in Chemawa, Oregon. D’Arcy left Chemawa in 1916 to live with Philomene and her second husband, Gus Dahlberg. From 1921 to 1925 he attended Montana State University as D’Arcy Dahlberg, where his first publications appeared in Frontier: A Literary Magazine. In 1925 he sold his allotment to complete his studies at Oxford. He left Oxford without matriculating, spent a few months in Paris, and settled in New York City in 1927. While working in publishing he wrote poems, short fiction, and several drafts of The Surrounded, which was published in 1936. By then, McNickle had moved to Washington, DC, to work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Surrounded garnered positive reviews, but sales were negligible. Although McNickle’s publisher and agent urged him to complete his novel-in-progress, Wind from an Enemy Sky would be published posthumously. At the BIA, McNickle worked to implement the Indian Reorganization Act, which, with ambivalent results, encouraged Indigenous self-determination. McNickle grew involved with pan-tribal activism, cofounding the National Congress of American Indians in 1944 and starting American Indian Development after leaving the BIA in 1952. During these years McNickle published a novel for children and three popular nonfiction books. He was involved in the 1961 American Indian Chicago Conference, and co-organized the Boulder Workshop on American Indian Affairs. In 1966 the University of Colorado at Boulder granted him an honorary doctorate. In 1967 he founded and chaired the Anthropology Department at the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina campus. In 1972 he became the program director of the Newberry Library’s Center for the History of American Indians, now named for him. His publications included a biography of Oliver La Farge and revised editions of the nonfiction. A year after his death, Wind from an Enemy Sky and a new edition of The Surrounded were published. Early scholarship on McNickle identified connections to the Native American Renaissance of the 1970s. Recent scholars have explored his critical perspective on modernism and modernity, representations of legal institutions and gendered power, and reflections on environmental and cross-species ethics.

Overviews and Biographies

Parker 1992 is the definitive scholarly biography. Hans 1997 is an accessible biographical essay suitable for students beginning to explore McNickle’s literary career. Although dated, especially on the state of the scholarship on McNickle, Ruppert 1988 remains accessible and provides a more extensive overview of McNickle’s career, making it a useful complement to Hans 1997.

  • Hans, Birgit. “D’Arcy McNickle (18 January 1904–18 October 1977).” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 175, Native American Writers of the United States. Edited by Kenneth M. Roemer, 163–173. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.

    Biographical essay by the editor of McNickle’s unpublished work. Features a bibliography listing McNickle’s books, selected nonfiction essays, and scholarly criticism. An accessible overview of McNickle’s career with primary focus on his composition process in writing The Surrounded and comparisons of the novel to other Indigenous novels of the era. Includes a shorter discussion of an early manuscript draft of Wind from an Enemy Sky titled “How Anger Died.”

  • Parker, Dorothy R. Singing an Indian Song: A Biography of D’Arcy McNickle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

    The only book-length biography of McNickle is fortunately a meticulously researched work of archival scholarship. Provides a thorough account of his complex career, drawing on correspondence, journals, and other materials otherwise only accessible in McNickle’s papers. An essential resource for all researchers. Includes a useful bibliography of McNickle’s publications, including currently uncollected nonfiction articles and poetry.

  • Ruppert, James. D’Arcy McNickle. Boise, ID: Boise State University Press, 1988.

    Informative and concise overview of McNickle’s life and work. Offers useful descriptions of the major fiction and nonfiction. The discussions of the nonfiction are most useful for students looking for more information on McNickle’s life and work after the publication of The Surrounded.

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