The Seed Keeper: A Novel

The Seed Keeper: A Novel

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A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakhóta family’s struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most.

Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakhóta people. Until, one morning, Ray doesn’t return from checking his traps. Told she has no family, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family in nearby Mankato—where the reserved, bookish teenager meets rebellious Gaby Makespeace, in a friendship that transcends the damaged legacies they’ve inherited.

On a winter’s day many years later, Rosalie returns to her childhood home. A widow and mother, she has spent the previous two decades on her white husband’s farm, finding solace in her garden even as the farm is threatened first by drought and then by a predatory chemical company. Now, grieving, Rosalie begins to confront the past, on a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong. In the process, she learns what it means to be descended from women with souls of iron—women who have protected their families, their traditions, and a precious cache of seeds through generations of hardship and loss, through war and the insidious trauma of boarding schools.

Weaving together the voices of four indelible women, The Seed Keeper is a beautifully told story of reawakening, of remembering our original relationship to the seeds and, through them, to our ancestors.

Honors for The Seed Keeper: 

  • Winner of the 2022 Minnesota Book Award in Fiction

  • A BuzzFeed "Best Book of Spring 2021"

  • A Literary Hub “Most Anticipated Book of 2021”

  • A Bustle “Most Anticipated Debut Novel of 2021”

  • A Book Riot “Best Book of 2021”

  • Bon Appetit “Best Summer 2021 Read”

  • A Thrillist “Best New Book of 2021”

  • Ms. Magazine “Best Book of 2021”

  • A Books Are Magic “Most Anticipated Book of 2021”

  • Named a “Most Anticipated Book of 2021” by The Millions

    Minneapolis Star Tribune “Book to Look Forward to in 2021”

  • A Daily Beast “Best Summer 2021 Read”


Praise for The Seed Keeper

“With compelling characters and images that linger long after the final page is turned, 
The Seed Keeper invokes the strength that women, land, and plants have shared with one another through the generations.”—Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

"In chapters that shift among the perspectives of four Dakhóta women—including Rosalie's great-aunt, who grew plants because the seeds in her pocket were 'all that's left of my family'—Wilson tracks Rosalie's attempts to understand her family and her roots, and considers how memory cultivates a sense of connection to the land." —
New Yorker

"[A] moving and monumental debut novel . . . Wilson opens her book with the poem, 'The Seeds Speak,' in which the seeds declare, 'We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to / infinity that reaches to the stars.' This novel illuminates that expansiveness with elegance and gravity." —
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"[Wilson's] writing is almost like a lullaby, guiding you gently across the tale. There is poetry in the words, a love for nature you can feel seeping through each page." 
—Book Riot, "Best Books of 2021"

"[The Seed Keeper] is a gorgeous and moving work of fiction with memorable characters that will stay in your heart and body for a long time." —BuzzFeed, "Brilliant Books That Explore Our Relationship with Nature"

"Spend a long afternoon with this beautiful, immersive novel. It traces Rosalie Iron Wing's family history through four generations of women who have loved, lost, and fought to retain their Dakota culture and the seeds that sustain them." —
Bon Appetit Magazine, "Best Summer 2021 Reads"

"Like watching a garden grow from seed to harvest, this novel quietly unfolds to tell the story of several generations of Dakhóta women and the land that connects them." —
The Daily Beast, "Best Summer Reads of 2021"

The Seed Keeper] tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing, a Dakota woman who, after surviving the foster care system to make a life of her own in the world, must confront the harsh realities—climate change, capitalism—of contemporary farming life. In looking to her past for answers Rosalie finds unexpected communion with her ancestors, the women—strong, resilient, proud—who made her who she is." —Literary Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2021"

"Told through the voices of four remarkable women, this is a book about preservation . . . This beautiful generational saga challenges conventional American history, asking us to reckon with the traumas brought upon Native Americans." —
Observer, "Can't-Miss Books of Spring 2021"

"A powerful story recounting the attempted genocide of Indigenous people in America—and how they continue to survive." —
Alma, "Best New Books of Spring 2021"

“It’s a moving multi-generational story about the destruction of Native American families, communities and lands—but also about reconnection, hope and the natural world . . . Wilson offers a different kind of idealism: one where community, family and the seeds can create the future we're seeking.”
TODAY Show Online

"The Seed Keeper is a deeply empathetic portrayal of a character grappling with a vibrant heritage complicated by pain, loss, and dysfunction. Ultimately, Rosalie comes to terms with who she is, understanding that for her, survival itself is a remarkable feat." —Sierra Magazine

"[Wilson] expertly weaves history and fiction to show how colonialism has long been a driver of environmental destruction. But the novel is also celebratory, a powerful and compelling ode to the resilience and wisdom of Indigenous cultures." —
Literary Hub, "Recommended Climate Readings for March 2021"

"A stunning, lyrical story . . . And though this book pulls no punches in its condemnation of white settlers and colonizers and their continued abuse of the land, it is also heartfelt and hopeful, carrying a steadfast belief in the strength of family, will, and growth." —
BuzzFeed, "Best Books of Spring 2021"

"Through its examination of the protagonist's life in the foster care system, 
The Seed Keeper confronts the legacy of American Indian genocide and sets Diane Wilson apart as a rising star." —Bustle, "Most Anticipated Books of 2021"

"In elegant prose, Wilson tells a story of one woman's reflections on her life, loss, family, and the seeds she knows are her ancestors and an imperative legacy she must protect at all costs." —
Ms. Magazine, "Most Anticipated Reads of 2021"

"Wilson offers finely wrought descriptions of the natural world, as the voice of the seeds provides connective threads to the stories of her people. This powerful work achieves a deep resonance often lacking from activist novels, and makes a powerful statement along the way." —
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

[The Seed Keeper] is a simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful story that weaves the voices of four women on the weft of history and storytelling.—Walker Art Magazine

"Uprooted from their land, the seeds Dakhóta women carried with them were not just a source of sustenance, but their link to the past and hope for the future, a symbol of their profound bond with the Earth. They provide a powerful symbol for Rosalie's rediscovery of her lost family and the ways of 'the old ones.' A thoughtful, moving meditation on connections to the past and the land that humans abandon at their peril." —
Kirkus Reviews

"In [Wilson's] first novel, the writing sings in compact, careful sentences, lending a timelessness to the narrative and making it clear that this compelling story is not just about these characters but also about culture, landscape and how we can—and often cannot—understand each other. Haunting and beautiful, the seeds and words of this novel will find their way into your world, however far from the Dakhóta lands that might be." —

"Through the voices of . . . women from past and present, Wilson deepens the reader's understanding of what loss of language and culture has done to Indigenous people. In depicting the way Rosalie's ancestor Marie Blackbird and other women sew seeds into their clothing as the war breaks out, Wilson shows these women's relationship to and reverence for the land: a sharp contrast to 'a country that destroys its soil,' using methods of modern agriculture and its effects upon waterways. A thought-provoking and engaging read." —
Booklist (starred review)

"After her father doesn't return from checking his traps near their home, Rosalie Iron Wing, a Dakota girl who's grown up surrounded by the woods and stories of plants, is sent to live with a foster family. Decades later, widowed and grieving, she returns to her childhood home to confront the past and find identity and community—and a cache of seeds, passed down from one generation of women to the next." —
The Millions, "Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2021 Book Preview

"Told through the voices of strong, albeit fractured, women across generations, 
The Seed Keeper is a novel about legacies, generational trauma, and the inescapable call of one's roots . . . With a focus on women who carry the scars of the past alongside hope for the future, The Seed Keeper is a profound novel about resilience and rebirth." —Foreword Reviews

"[Diane Wilson] has lured us in with her upcoming novel about generations of Dakota women tasked with preserving their culture's traditions, namely a cache of seeds, against nasty and unscrupulous threats from the modern world." —

"Direct and beautiful . . . A compelling read." —
High Country News

“Wisdom, humor, truth, marriage, history, child-rearing, environmental advocacy, overcoming obstacles, tears: [
The Seed Keeper] has it all, told in a compelling and poignant way."The Circle: Native American News & Arts

“As seeds are a gift from one generation to another, the song and the word of the seeds return to us, reminding us of our covenant, and also of the promise of love and rebirth. Always, I remember the Zapatista proverb ‘They thought they buried us, they forgot that we were seeds.’ That we are, and Diane Wilson’s narrative of intergenerational loss and rebirth fills my heart with gratitude.”
—Winona LaDuke, author of Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming

“A gracefully told story of continuity through seeds saved and nurtured by Dakhóta women, 
The Seed Keeper is lush and sustaining—a read that feeds heart and spirit in the same way as do the gardens that are their legacy.”—Linda LeGarde Grover, author of Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year

“In her remarkable first novel, Diane Wilson braids history and fiction, offering a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of the Dakhóta women who protected their family seeds for future generations. 
The Seed Keeper is both a prayer and a powerful invitation for all of us to fall back in love with the earth.”—Carolyn Holbrook, author of Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify

"A moving, resonant song of remembrance, lineage, womanhood, kinship, loss, and land." —
Books Are Magic, "Most Anticipated Books of 2021

"One of my most anticipated books for 2021! Told from multiple women from several generations of a Dakota family, Wilson explores community heritage, personal discovery, and the deep-seated strength carried on through our lineages against a backdrop of science and nature and connections to the land through cultivating plants. I love a multigenerational family saga, and books about nature, and learning more about indigenous experiences, so this is a win on every level. Plus, this cover! Stunning." —
Colleen Callery, Books Are Magic

The Seed Keeper is the story of multiple generations of a Dakhóta family. It is about time, about loss, about land, about love. It is about the stars, the soil, the voices of our ancestors that are never still within us. It is about the potency of seeds, and the history and stories they carry; the future they promise if cherished and cared for. It is about coming home. The story is told by four indelible women's voices: Rosalie Iron Wing, Marie Blackbird, Darlene Kills Deer, and Gaby Makespeace. Together they act as a chorus for the Dakhóta nation from 1862 to 2002. Diane Wilson, a Dakhóta, created these voices that will burrow into you." —James Bohnen, Arcadia Books

"It's happened again. I abandoned life as usual for two days to become fast friends with this debut novel by Diane Wilson. I held tight to the story and beautiful, descriptive writing that took me deep into the forests, the gardens, and the rooms where the characters confronted their stories and their struggles. It was the characters, though, that made this book one I can't stop thinking about a week later. Four women, each beautiful and strong in her own way. Marie Blackbird is forced to flee her home with her family in 1862 as European soldiers advance . . . Darlene Kills Deer, Marie's granddaughter, loses her three siblings in 1920 when they're taken to a boarding school to assimilate . . . Rosalie Iron Wing, Darlene's grandniece, grew up with her father, learning the ways of the Dakota and learning to garden. After the sudden death of her father, she's thrust into the foster care system . . . While in the foster care system, Rosalie meets Gaby Makespeace. Gaby is adrift, but she eventually turns her life around and takes on a corrupt chemical/genetically-modified seed company and its irreversible negative impact on the environment. These four women are connected by their stories of struggle and suppression and resilience and triumph and hope. They're connected by seeds, which Native American culture sees 'as relatives, as living beings deserving of loving care.' This novel is exquisite." —
Rachael Johnson, Valley Bookseller

"I found so many moments in 
The Seed Keeper that left me stunned into listening deeper into the silence around me. Diane Wilson's characters' memories are shared here through the Earth—as a seed sower and protector, she hears the voices of her people and the land that was with them throughout time. There is so much pain, love, and growth in the stories she shares. The ups and downs of family and friends and love. The wise words, the human mistakes, the messiness and beauty of it all. We get to see her find the missing pieces, solve some of the mysteries, and view certain experiences that changed with the light of outside influences. Wilson weaves us through each of these narratives while also breathing life into the trees and the gardens and the abundant land that strengthened these connections, taking breath from words long-ago spoken and pulling them into the howl of the wind outside a family home. Hard-hitting but satisfying, heart-breaking but uplifting, The Seed Keeper reminds us of the real fabric of family and finds beauty within its imperfections." —Anna Kongs, Helen Fowler Library

"Drawing on her own extensive knowledge of the Dakota people, Diane Wilson draws us back toward our past, to a time when people understood the value of the land and its bounty; when the seed keepers were allowed to practice their mystery. I loved this lilting, lovely, reminiscence of a time gone by and a time captured anew. I think you will love it, too." —
Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore

"A haunting and compelling story of resilience and rebirth . . . [A book] to sit with long after the last page." —
Suzanne Krohn, Love in Panels

The Seed Keeper shimmers like the horizon in the summer heat—depending on how you look at it, it is a stunning historical novel, a paean to the land and the plants that people it, a prayer to Dakota women wading through generational trauma. It is all of these things, and so much more. Wilson deftly weaves together multiple voices to bring the original relationship of reciprocity between people and Earth into the present day. This is a clarion call to think about seeds as much more than commodities: Seeds are stories; seeds are possibilities; seeds are past and future generations. Powerful and compelling, The Seed Keeper will be treasured by readers who enjoy Robin Wall Kimmerer's lyricism, Barbara Kingsolver's activist bent, and Louise Erdrich's historical fiction." —Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop

Praise for Beloved Child

“Both profoundly radical and deeply moving . . . 
In Beloved Child, Wilson moves powerfully into wider focus. . . . Wilson has written a heartfelt love story filled with pain and trauma, but also redemption. She writes simply and beautifully, getting close to her subjects by listening intently and with palpable curiosity. . . . Beloved Child is inspirational and deeply empowering.”Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Beloved Child is an exercise in healing and revealing; it is history, biography, psychology, and anthropology, and it succeeds on all fronts. . . . Not just a very good book, it is a necessary book.”First Nations Drum

“I am humbled by the absolute beauty of 
Beloved Child. I have witnessed sacred places that speak to my soul and instantly bring tears, yet I cannot articulate that truth as Wilson has within these pages. This book gives us tools to listen to our hearts.”—Ramona Kitto Stately, Indian Education Program Specialist, Osseo (Minnesota) Area Schools

About the Author

Diane Wilson (Dakhóta) is the author of a memoir, Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past, which won a Minnesota Book Award and was selected for the One Minneapolis One Read program, as well as a nonfiction book, Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life, which was awarded the Barbara Sudler Award from History Colorado. Her most recent essay, “Seeds for Seven Generations,” was featured in the anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota. Wilson has received a Bush Foundation Fellowship as well as awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the East Central Regional Arts Council. In 2018, she was awarded a 50 Over 50 Award from Pollen/Midwest. In 2018, she was awarded a 50 Over 50 Award from Pollen/Midwest. Wilson has served as the executive director for Dream of Wild Health and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, working to help rebuild sovereign food systems for Native people. She is a Mdewakanton descendent, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation, and lives in Shafer, Minnesota.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Milkweed Editions (March 9, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 392 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1571311378
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1571311375
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.1 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches

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