Bad Indian explores what it means to be Native American today through a series of raw, twisting poems imbued with a density of hope only survivors can realize. J.C. Mehta details the adversity of mixed ancestry, of what it means to be called a “Pretendian” by fellow Natives, and what a lifetime of being told “you look something” by everyone else brings to fruition—the realization of not fully belonging anywhere. Mehta delves into living with eating disorders, the victories and losses of loves great and small, and ultimately coming to terms and peace with her heritage. These poems are urgently needed, a buzzing meditation on finding your place in a hostile world.
Reviews of Bad Indian
“Put these poems in your mouth, like pebbles to train yourself to speak, but know they are glass shards. Your tongue will shred when you read, ‘Who up and say so long to that god? . . . So many of us wash away, walk away, drag and drug away . . .’ You will know disappearing indigenous girls and women, one who disappears as you read. Full of blood-letting, lust, and loyalty, J.C. Mehta’s poems speak a grief ‘too big / to contain,’ a desire for women with ‘ribcages pressed / like prison bars against the skin,’ and a legacy ‘lingering as rusty stains / on underwear.’ Her poems cut through pretense with dizzying language: ‘What I put in my mouth, / what I keep out, / it’s all the same. Stuffing, starving, stifling / it all down.’ Read Bad Indian, and you will taste diamonds.”
—Kate Gray, author, For Every Girl and Another Sunset We Survive
“Bad Indian is many things. In the Trump era, it might read as a powerful expression of Native identity in a nation that seems intent on erasing those experiences. One might trace author J.C. Mehta’s life story through these pages, reading the book as a kind of poetic memoir.
“However, more than a simple political statement or autobiography, Bad Indian expresses in a raw, personal way what it means to be Native and look white, and what it means to never really belong anywhere. It expresses what it means to be disconnected from one’s heritage and to be met with furrowed brows and strange looks, and to be called a “Pretendian” by fellow Natives. It expresses what it means to be surrounded on all sides by a hostile world baffled by one’s mere existence. . . .
“Identity can be a cudgel to tear one down or an invitation to be part of a community. Mehta’s poetry straddles the line between these extremes effortlessly, and gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to be half-Cherokee, half-white.”
—Nick Gatlin, PSU Vanguard
“Bad Indian by J.C. Mehta is the perfect companion piece to her coming-of-age novel, You Look Something. This collection of poems touches the uncertainty, vulnerability, and longing to fit in that is inside all of us . . . These poems tell a unique side of Indian heritage, one that many of us can relate to but rarely express so eloquently. . . .
If you like poetry that can deeply touch you as well as inform and enlighten, treat yourself to Bad Indian.”
About the Author
See J.C. Mehta's scheduled events.
J.C. Mehta is a multi-award-winning poet and author of over one dozen books. She’s currently a poetry editor at Bending Genres Literary Review, Airlie Press, and the peer-reviewed Exclamat!on journal. During 2018–19, she was a fellow at Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC where she curated an anthology of poetry by incarcerated indigenous women and created “Red/Act,” a pop-up virtual reality poetry experience using proprietary software. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and native Oregonian, place and personal ancestry inform much of Mehta’s creative work.
Mehta’s novel The Wrong Kind of Indian won gold at the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). Mehta has also received numerous visiting fellowships in recent years, including the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington and the Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship at The British Library. Visual representations of her work have been featured at galleries and exhibitions around the world including IA&A Hillyer in Washington DC and The Emergency Gallery in Sweden. Mehta is a popular speaker and panelist, featured recently at events like the US State Department’s National Poetry Month event, “Poets as Cultural Emissaries: A Conversation with Women Writers,” as well as the “Women’s Transatlantic Prison Activism Since 1960” symposium at Oxford University.
Mehta is also the owner of a multi-award-winning writing company and founder of the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund, the only scholarship exclusively for Native Americans pursuing an advanced degree in writing. She has undertaken poetry residencies around the globe including at Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her doctoral research focuses on the intersection of poetry and eating disorders.
Learn more about J.C. Mehta’s work at www.jessicamehta.com.