Minnesota Historical Society

While the Locust Slept: A Memoir

$ 16.95

Through transcendent prose, an Ojibwe man chronicles his survival of abuse and bigotry at a state orphanage in the 1930s and the brutal farm indenture that followed. In stark, haunting prose, first-time author Peter Razor recalls his early years as a ward of the State of Minnesota. Disclosing his story through flashbacks and relying on research from his own case files, Razor pieces together the shattered fragments of his boyhood into a memoir that reads as compellingly as a novel.

Abandoned as an infant at the State Public School in Owatonna, Minnesota, Peter Razor is raised by abusive workers who thought of him as nothing more than "a dirty Injun." Cut off from his family and his heritage, he turns inward, forced to learn about the world on his own. After failed attempts to run away from the orphanage, he is indentured by the state to an abusive, reclusive farm family. Beaten, poorly fed, clothed in rags, and worked like slave labor, he struggles to attend high school and begins to dream of another life. Razor's stark and often chilling story, devoid of self-pity, recalls with haunting clarity the years he, like the locust, patiently waited to awaken and emerge.

Minnesota Book Award Winner

  • By: Peter Razor
  • Format: Paper, 208 pp.
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 9780873514392

PETER RAZOR, a first-time author at age 72, is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwa and great-grandson of Mrs. Frank Razer of the White Earth Reservation, whose beadwork was studied by Frances Densmore in the book Chippewa Customs (MHS Press). As an adult, Razor researched his past and his culture and began dancing in powwows and learning to make traditional garments. In recent years he has received acclaim for the instruments he makes, including hand drums, rattles, and jingles.



Praise for While the Locust Slept:


"A stirring tale of a Native American childhood . . . recounted in spare prose loaded with feeling and insight . . . [A] valuable coming of age story." -- Publishers Weekly


"With its storytelling quality and method of flashing back and forth in time, Razor's memoir creates an almost hypnotic effect. . . . [his] story is a revelation . . . and is part of an honorable tradition of memoir writing by Native American writers, including Linda Hogan, Paula Gunn Allen, [and] N. Scott Momady." -- Library Journal


"Starvation, savage kicks, plotted escapes . . . not tales from a penal colony, these episodes were part of Peter Razor's early life, spent as a ward of the state in the State Public School at Owatonna, Minn. in the 1930s and '40s. While the Locust Slept is the evenhanded, compelling tale of his harrowing childhood. . . . Razor has created an important and readable account of a dark period in Minnesota's public past. . . . While the Locust Slept is memoir of the best kind--a clear testimony to events of [the] past." -- Gina Temple, [Duluth] Ripsaw News


"Though he exposes the reality of a system that essentially legalized child abuse, Razor somehow manages to control his justifiable anger. A perfectly pitched memoir." -- Kirkus Reviews


"[A] stirring bittersweet memoir. . . . Written with great emotion and without self-pity." -- Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Books


"Peter Razor's coming-of-age story is a shocking revelation and succeeds where most other Native American autobiographies have failed. While the Locust Slept never confuses honesty with the truth, never descends into racial blaming, and refuses to use Ojibwe culture as a mirror in which the travesties of modern times are reflected. Instead, in a voice as simple and innocent as our childhood should be, he lets his experiences as an orphan tell the harrowing story of a lost generation of Indian children. While the Locust Slept is a treasure." -- David Treuer, author of Little and The Hiawatha

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