Robert J. Conley (1940 – 2014)
MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA — Award-winning American Indian author, Robert J. Conley, a tribal citizen of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, walked on this past Sunday in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He was 74.
Conley authored roughly 80 books. He was best known for a series of books called the “Real People” series. Conley was a master story-teller who wrote about pre-European contact of Native people and historical Cherokee leaders.
Earlier this month, he was named the 2014 Owen Wister Award recipient for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature. He was to have been presented the award at the Western Writers of America’s annual convention in June 28, 2014 in Sacramento, California.
He was awarded the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award winner from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.
Conley’s first novel, “Back to Malachi” (1986), was written “out of anger,” he says, rooted in misrepresentations of Ned Christie, “a Cherokee who was falsely accused of murder and hounded for four and a half years before he was killed by a huge posse.” At the time, many publishers did not believe that they could publish a Western with an Indian protagonist, but Conley’s work broke the threshold. He went on to assist in the early development of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers, which encourages American Indian writers.
Conley served as the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker offered his condolences on Monday on the passing of Conley:
Today, we mourn the passing of one of the great stewards of our Cherokee history and culture, Robert J. Conley. Robert was the author of more than 80 books, short stories and poems, vividly telling the tales of our most famous, and infamous, figures in Cherokee history. His literary works were world renowned, and he garnered equal respect from both critics and readers. While Robert will be dearly missed, we should be comforted in the fact that his legacy will live on in the wide body of work he left behind for all Cherokees to enjoy for generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”
Conley’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies over the years in Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. They appear in multiple languages: English, Cherokee, German, French and Macedonian.