Eric Gansworth reclaims a racial slur in his upcoming memoir-in-verse, Apple: Skin to the Core, weaving a powerful narrative about identity and belonging. An enrolled citizen of the Onondaga Nation who grew up in the Tuscarora Nation, Gansworth is known for tackling racial stereotypes in his fiction and poetry. Apple continues this trend, delivering a powerful reading experience that will appeal to both its Young Adult audience and adults alike.
Here’s the description from the publisher:
In this moving book, Gansworth tells the story of his life, of an Onondaga family living among Tuscaroras and of Native people in the United States, especially the damaging effects of government boarding schools. By sharing his journey, Gansworth faces deeply offensive racial stereotypes head on, including the titular “apple,” a slur common in Native communities, meaning “red on the outside, and white on the inside.” His story is not only a reflection of these experiences, but it also explores how he has reclaimed the word “apple.”
Levine Querido will release Apple on October 6th. But you don’t have to wait to begin reading; we’re excited to reveal the cover alongside an exclusive excerpt today.
Cover design by Filip Peraic
Enjoy reading the excerpt below, and you can look forward to seeing Apple: Skin to the Core in bookstores in October.
Should you be an enrolled member of your nation, and should your family choose, and have the opportunity, you may go through ceremony, and be given the name the Creator will know you by, for the rest of your life. It is a part of you and no one else will have it while you walk the Earth. You do not do this lightly, or casually, and sometimes, you are the person who waits a very, very long time, and you will be reminded when the time comes, that you have chosen to wait a very very long time, if you see it through.
Because naming is a part of your life, casual informal versions of this ritual crop up. You will be given nicknames that do not necessarily carry an effect you’ve desired. The ability to laugh at yourself is more common as a ceremony. For this one, you do not need to set aside days to participate in formal community ceremonies that come along only a couple times a year.
Some names come from your quirks you will never get used to knowing. They are the secret language of people who love you. You will wonder, when you hear your harsh nickname, for the five thousandth time, how people who love you can saddle you with something that feels more like an ever-fresh scab, a wound ripped open over and over, before it can ever have a chance to heal over, flake off, leave a scar.
Other nicknames exhibit the force of will. Your parents name you after nine months of laboring over the right sound, the right look, because English, even if it is our first language now, is still our second language. And then, when you are an infant, your siblings, or your uncle or auntie or cousins, decide you will have a different name, entirely, sometimes not a name at all, just a sound instead, a series of syllables that, within months, will seem totally natural to everyone.
Even your parents with their other intentions, end up using your legal name only as a threat, warning you that you are testing their patience. It might be listed in the birth records of the United States, New York State, Niagara County, a different place beyond the borders of your homeland, but only your bad behavior is enough to awaken your Christian name in the mouths of your parents, at the end of their wits.
You may even discover that a name given in innocence can turn on you. Among the dozen or so names I’ve been given over my lifetime, most have atrophied in misuse or fallen to obscurity. The people who used them have grown up with me, and we are all different people now, and they might resurrect one for an occasional laugh but the names have not retained the longevity of two that have survived into my current life.
It is easy to see why I’d be okay with Batman. Though it does have sociopathic connotations, the idea of being a vigilante hero with an awesome car still holds all the appeal it ever did.
But Pixie Dust has decided drawbacks as a name. Even the existence of a hard-rocking, genre-defining, ear-bleeding rock band can’t remove the fey daintiness of the name my brother randomly gave me after we watched an episode of Gumby together as kids. Within it, Gumby and Pokey jump into a fairy tale, concerning a clueless prince and the girl he wants to marry. He is bamboozled by unethical merchants, but before he can deliver the lame gift he plans to offer his love, he selflessly helps an elf, who returns the kind gesture, transforming his gift of a real tree and a real pigeon into golden replicas, with his bag of magic Pixie Dust. What this story has to do with me, I have no idea, but my brother decided I should immediately be renamed Pixie Dust or if you are more into brevity, Pixie for short.
What might be cute when you are five or six, has distinct drawbacks when you are sixteen, trying to compete in an aggressive Shirts and Skins game of backyard basketball with your cousins who play as if it were a blood sport (which it always is with them), or deciding who gets to choose the next album to play, when we stick the speakers out the window and share our loves.
Your passion for David Bowie, Blondie, Queen, the B-52’s, and the Go-Go’s affirms your essential Pixie-ness to your Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, and Deep Purple-loving cousins. Even your devotion to the Beatles is scorned by their devotion to the Stones in that debate over taste and testosterone on the Rez where those distinctions are front and center.
You can never give yourself a nickname. If you try, you will be doomed in the most subtle of ways. People will call you by that desired name, with the slightest inflection of laughter and pity. If we try to conjure our own nicknames, we reveal our vanity, our secret desires. Sometimes you are lucky and you grow out of a nickname and then back into it fully with just a few short years of embarrassment, then resignation, acceptance, and joy.
If you are from somewhere else (and sometimes even if you are from the Rez, and have spent your whole life there), you may wonder about the harshness. Even some of the most sharp-tongued, cleverest people who come up with the nicknames that stay like scar tissue may not know how they inherited such a talent.
But inside, at the core, we understand this is preparation. When you live in a community on a landmass five miles by seven miles, you will spend many hours working beyond those borders, shopping beyond those borders, eating in restaurants beyond those borders, breathing the air beyond those borders. Every time you leave that home sign behind, even for a little while, you are likely to hear, in some form or another, that those surrounding you view you as Lesser.
If you excel, you will be “remarkable for being an Indian.” If you fail, you will be “no surprise because you’re an Indian.”
Every observation in between extremes will be framed, even compliments given in surprise and disbelief, and little more.
When you live with a nickname, you are more prepared for whatever unexpected beliefs are tossed your way, casually, or said within earshot because you do or do not fit someone else’s idea of what an Indian is. And when you are frustrated and wonder why people who are connected to you for your lifetime would do this to you, you remember.
You remember that they have been here before, they have heard everything you’re going to hear. They have their own wounds that won’t heal into scabs and then scars, but because they, like you, are grandchildren of Boarding School survivors, they know you need to be tough and sensitive. They know you can’t let the calluses get so deadened to feeling that you forget how close you were to disappearing altogether.
You have heard the harshest of all nicknames, the one that insists Pratt had worked his Boarding School magic/voodoo on your family and that you carry that Apple curse at your core, embedded in the little brown teardrop-shaped seeds that rest there, like auricles and ventricles of the heart. You wonder who came up with this nickname, who bit into an apple first, looked at it, crisp cold skin and flesh in their mouth, juice sliding down their dark chin.
If your nickname harbors especially sharp contours, like a shattered mirror, everyone you know will claim to have invented it. Because our verbal talents allowed us to survive, even when we were supposed to burn our cultures out like self-cleaning ovens, we prize cleverness, quickness, the ability to find the right metaphor to reveal and obscure at the exact same time, depending on whose ears are receiving our words in the moment.
All kinds of people on the Rez will line up to claim their grandmother or grandfather did this or that, invented that or this beadwork pattern. But no one says they have a Cherokee Princess Great-Great-Grandmother, and no one says “look at my cheekbones, look at my cheekbones.” No one is spitting into test tubes and shipping their saliva off to 23andMyAncestralSpiritAnimal.com. No one needs to claim a little exotic blood coursing through their suburban lives, hoping to fill their two-car garages with it, like that elevator in The Shining, flooding the lobby and everything.
And no one claims to be the First Indian to call another Indian an Apple. I have never heard of anyone claiming their relatives came up with the idea, claiming that one of their own had picked up the shattered mirror, daring to risk its edges, discovering the flesh hidden inside.
After all this time, and all these attempts to wipe us out, some things are on the verge of disappearing, some things are gone. Our stories survive in wampum belts, woven rows of purple shell beads and white, in sequence and arrangement, revealing an image in the contrast between the colors, that documents our history, cosmology, culture.
Without living people to commit the stories to memory, those belts become merely shapes, vague images. I have seen wampum belts whose original meaning is lost. The last person who knew how to read them left the Earth, returned to the Skyworld without passing its story along for us.
Did that person choose silence, or was no one paying attention, the last time that story was told?
The wampum belts remain, but without memory, they tell a different story. They show us everything we have lost, everything we can still save, by telling and retelling the stories we know, the stories of our lives.
A primary lesson we are taught, even in our greatest sadness: we must clear our eyes, our ears, our throats to do our parts in carrying on the stories for the time we will no longer be able to pass them on, leaving silent images behind, mere mysteries to others. This is our foundation.
I tell you here what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have lived. I choose not to be silent, and you can choose to open your ears, and eyes, or close them. Maybe this story is not for you. We can agree that we each see the world differently, and each have a contribution to the larger story, and believe we have things to learn from each other.