Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Deborah Taffa

April 9 @ 7:00 pm

Deborah Taffa

discusses her new book

Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

published by Harper Collins

A Zibby Mag ‘Most Anticipated Book’ * A San Francisco Chronical ‘New Book to Cozy Up With’ * A Publishers Weekly ‘Memoirs & Biographies: Top 10’

Reminiscent of the works of Mary Karr and Terese Marie Mailhot, a memoir of family and survival, coming-of-age on and off the reservation, and of the frictions between mainstream American culture and Native inheritance; assimilation and reverence for tradition.

Deborah Jackson Taffa was raised to believe that some sacrifices were necessary to achieve a better life. Her grandparents—citizens of the Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo tribe—were sent to Indian boarding schools run by white missionaries, while her parents were encouraged to take part in governmental job training off the reservation. Assimilation meant relocation, but as Taffa matured into adulthood, she began to question the promise handed down by her elders and by American society: that if she gave up her culture, her land, and her traditions, she would not only be accepted, but would be able to achieve the “American Dream.”

Whiskey Tender traces how a mixed tribe native girl—born on the California Yuma reservation and raised in Navajo territory in New Mexico—comes to her own interpretation of identity, despite her parent’s desires for her to transcend the class and “Indian” status of her birth through education, and despite the Quechan tribe’s particular traditions and beliefs regarding oral and recorded histories. Taffa’s childhood memories unspool into meditations on tribal identity, the rampant criminalization of Native men, governmental assimilation policies, the Red Power movement, and the negotiation between belonging and resisting systemic oppression. Pan-Indian, as well as specific tribal histories and myths, blend with stories of a 1970s and 1980s childhood spent on and off the reservation.

Taffa offers a sharp and thought-provoking historical analysis laced with humor and heart. As she reflects on her past and present—the promise of assimilation and the many betrayals her family has suffered, both personal and historical; trauma passed down through generations—she reminds us of how the cultural narratives of her ancestors have been excluded from the central mythologies and structures of the “melting pot” of America, revealing all that is sacrificed for the promise of acceptance.

What has been said about Whiskey Tender

‘I was completely taken by Whiskey Tender: its gorgeous sentences, its searing observations about identity and loss and inheritance, and its exploration of generational and terrestrial traumas. This is a strong and special book.’ — Carmen Maria Machado, bestselling author of In the Dream House

“We have more Native stories now, but we have not heard one like this. Whiskey Tender is unexpected and propulsive, indeed tender, but also bold, and beautifully told, like a drink you didn’t know you were thirsty for. This book, never anything less than mesmerizing, is full of family stories and vital Native history. It pulses and it aches, and it lifts, consistently. It threads together so much truth by the time we are done, what has been woven together equals a kind of completeness from brokenness, and a hope from knowing love and loss and love again by naming it so.” — Tommy Orange, National Bestselling Author of There There

‘What makes Taffa’s version exceptional is her visceral prose and sharp attunement to the tragedies of assimilation. This is a must-read.’ — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

‘A warm and propulsive personal history that lucidly traces its Native and colonial legacies to draw a complex and humane portrait of a family and a pivotal political time in U.S. history. Taffa is a gifted raconteur and her memoir should be required reading for everyone in this country.’ — Melissa Febos, author of Body Work and Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

‘Deborah Taffa’s Whiskey Tender is utterly gripping, deeply moving, and absolutely true to its title: saturated with the kind of tenderness made possible by close attention and deep compassion. This memoir is an endlessly revelatory saga of growing up and growing into history, an ode to family and reclamation, an honoring of heritage and tradition that holds centuries of history while also holding close the searing particulars of daily life: jokes, night terrors, whispered confessions. Taffa never shies away from pain, or from the complexities of family, but her story always insists on joy, and explores with such lucidity the endless transformations, innovations, and acts of creation that survival requires. Taffa’s Laguna grandmother said three things were necessary for a deep intimacy with homeland—sensory experiences, storied histories, and deep caring—and all three strands are so abundantly, ecstatically, present in this stunning saga of inheritance and reckoning.’ — Leslie Jamison, New York Times bestselling author of The Recovering and The Empathy Exams

‘Deborah Taffa’s Whiskey Tender is an intricately-layered and emotional glimpse into family, discovery, and home. This memoir is both heartbreaking and beautiful and will leave you thinking about it long after finishing it. A remarkable book.’ — Brandon Hobson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Removed

‘In a memoir populated by dreams but legislated by family and culture and reality, Deborah Taffa suggests that if we are going to heal we need to be able to remember our wounds. In a style that is by turns measured, then biting, then humorous, then humble, then soaring, Taffa has a personal and moral conversation with an untold history. This story—which centers around being both Native and American at the same time—is a great lesson for how we can hold, and even embrace, our divisions and our tensions to create a new mosaic for the future.’ — Colum McCann, National Book Award winner and author of Apeirogon

‘This book is about inheritance, but it is also about reclamation. It’s about the history we can’t change and those futures that we’re shaping despite their pings from the past. And in her graceful, compassionate, bold, and humorous debut, Taffa explores how to navigate this rift with insights of breathtaking beauty and depth.’ — John D’Agata, Guggenheim Fellow and Author of The Lifespan of a Fact

‘A single life can be the wellspring for an entire mythology, and Deborah Jackson Taffa’s Whiskey Tender flows like water over desert earth. We are given the life of a people, their history borne of and defining American history. We are given a story, singular and impossible to put down’ — Jai Chakrabarti, author of A Play for the End of the World and A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness

‘A memoir of exquisite detail and honesty, Whiskey Tender is a quintessentially American story in which Little Debbie snackcakes and The Price is Right are every bit the birthrights of Deborah Taffa as the legacies of Indigenous displacement, oppression and murder. Taffa’s moving book reminds us that capital-H history never ends with travesties but carries through specific individuals in real time, and that while America can take and take, it can never kill off the truth or the spirit.’ — Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End

‘In Whiskey Tender, Deborah Taffa examines, courageously and compellingly, the many forces that made her. Her extraordinary, hard-working father; her complicated, beautiful mother; a childhood divided between Quechuan and Navajo territories; and her own bullheaded, indomitable spirit. A deft and engaging weave of personal narrative, generational trauma, US policies of exclusion and erasure, and Taffa’s unquenchable desire to find her way back to the mystery that always has been and is still at the center of existence, this superb memoir of place, culture and finding power will open your eyes as well as your heart.’ — Pam Houston, author of Deep Creek, Finding Hope In The High Country

“Screaming from the heart, Taffa’s confiding memoir pierces generations of colonial harm. A mature, illuminating text that will also appeal to coming-of-age readers.’ — Cynthia Leitich Smith, American Indian Youth Literature Award winner for Hearts Unbroken

‘In this finely drawn memoir, Deborah Jackson Taffa has written an essential story of America. A meticulously researched and critical look at self and country, Whiskey Tender breaks your heart and then makes it soar.’ — Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah

This event made possible by the support of the City Lights Foundation


April 9
7:00 pm


City Lights Bookstore
View Organizer Website


City Lights
261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133 United States
+ Google Map
View Venue Website