In the Sun’s House
My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation
A fledgling teacher finds his place in the unlikeliest of settings
In the Sun's House chronicles one academic year of Caswell’s life during which he taught at a small elementary and middle school at Borrego Pass, a remote Navajo community in northwest New Mexico. Caswell struggles all year to earn respect in the classroom, as his students know that he is an interloper, just one white teacher in a long string of white teachers who come to the reservation with no intention of staying. As he gradually begins to understand his errors, Caswell attempts to bridge the gap he has widened between himself and the community.
A tale told from a perspective of interiority and self-examination, even self-doubt, In the Sun's House also flashes outward on the lives of Caswell's students, their challenges, failings, and successes. Just as he navigates to locate himself in a world foreign to him, his students attempt to find their places in a community bereft of opportunity and plagued by poverty.
Caswell brings to life the desolate and intense landscape around Borrego Pass as he turns to the outdoors to provide solace and stability. He weaves in Navajo history and mythology, as well as geology, archaeology, literature, and natural history, to create a work that speaks of loss and survival in a teacher’s memoir told with painstaking honesty.
“Teaching language arts to middle school students on a Navajo reservation is not for the fainthearted, as Kurt Caswell demonstrates in this probing memoir.”
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— the Rumpus
“In the Sun’s House gathers together so much of the world that lies remote, to our eyes and often our hearts—the Navajo nation, the desert Southwest, the elusive joys of the classroom, the forces that both shape identity and erode it, the lonely isolation that accompanies wanderlust, the not always apparent journey toward what it is we most desire from life. There’s a quiet, sometimes wind-bitten loveliness in Caswell’s seductive voice that builds triumphantly to a level of uplifting grace.”
— Bob Shacochis, National Book Award–winning author of Easy in the Islands and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
“An exquisitely written, consistently thoughtful, and engaging work . . . Its scrupulous personal honesty and research into the Navajos combine to produce a rich literary experience, as engrossing as a novel yet buoyed by the sense of a reliable observer bearing witness to what actually happened.”
— Phillip Lopate, author of Two Marriages
“This is a literary chronicle with the flavor of Tom Wolfe's brand of naturalism, told with well-observed scenes, dialogue in full, strong point of view, and illuminating details.”
— New Mexico Magazine