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While the Locust Slept

While the Locust Slept

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A Memoir

Author Peter Razor

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 1, 2002)

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

Author information

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 (MNHS 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.

Reviews and news

"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

"Peter Razor spins an intense and endearing tale of an American Indian youth abandoned to the cruel mercy of the state. As memoir, his voice is amazingly distinctive--giving a cultural story of human survival. As history, his work informs us of an almost hidden, dark time in our past."
Mark Anthonly Rolo (Bad River Ojibwe), former editor of The Circle, and author of My Mother is Now Earth

“Razor’s 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 Momaday.”
Library Journal

“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

“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. . . . While the Locust Slept is the evenhanded, compelling tale of his harrowing childhood. . . . While the Locust Slept is memoir of the best kind—a clear testimony to events of [the] past.”
Ripsaw News

"A perfectly pitched memoir."

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 200 pages
  • 5.25 x 8 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873514392

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