A Mind Spread Out on the Ground summary

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground summary

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott (Author)

Not much a fiction, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is the memoir of the author Elliott, who spent the first years of her life in Buffalo, and then in Six Nation – the reserve right next to the Canadian border. Contains more than just memories of her childhood, this book is also a roar that is building slowly against the culture of colonization that keeps indigenous people undermined.

Mental illness among the Native American is an overlooked, yet relevant condition: the Mohawk calls depression “A mind spread out on the ground” in their language, which is also the title of the book. Statistics say that in America, Native Youth suffers from a suicide rate that is two and a half times higher than the average of the whole nation.

Our heroine has a white Catholic mother and a Native father, and she grows up taking after both of them, resulting in her uncertain emotional footing, even when the good things are going her way. Like many others, she relies on writing to keep herself grounded and also build her pride. It is helpful in rageful moments (when her classmates spout racism at her) or when she gets confused about her ability.

Through lessons that life throws at her, we can see Elliott growth as she states:” Bearing the blood of the white and the Native doesn’t mean to cast a curse that gonna tear me in two, instead it should be a call to hold up the different responsibilities that I am predisposed with.” Aside from struggling with an identity crisis and peer pressure, this book can be otherwise perceived as a vibrant meditation on trauma and legacy.


This is not going an easy read regardless of where you are in life, however, it speaks of the truth that: to fully achieve reconciliation, we are not going to sweep misdeeds and mistreatments under the rug with one quick apology. 

  • Author
  • Editorial Reviews
  • From the Publisher



"Elliott perfectly captures the modern indigenous experience ... a gripping read."—Christian Allaire, Vogue

"A tour de force. . . . Alicia Elliott takes her place among essayists such as [Roxane] Gay and [Samantha] Irby, infusing intimate details of her own life with sociopolitical analysis and biting wit. . . . " —The Globe and Mail

"A new lens on North American Indigenous literature." —Terese Marie Mailhot, author of Heart Berries

"An astonishing book of insightful and affecting essays that will stay with you long after the final page."—Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People

“A beautiful, incisive, and punk rock tour of Mohawk brilliance.” —Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of This Accident of Being Lost

"Elliott’s intelligence and inquisitive reflection are humbling; her book should be required reading."—Booklist

"An instant must-read... Elliott’s prose is beautiful, and her insight into the deeply personal and its interconnectedness with the wider world makes this book readable, infuriating, and essential."—LitHub 

An impressive debut from a welcome new voice in Native letters."—Kirkus

"Elliott is fierce and unapologetic." Toronto Star

"Wildly brave and wholly original, Alicia Elliot is the voice that rouses us from the mundane, speaks political poetry and brings us to the ceremony of every day survival. Her words remind us to carry both our weapons and our medicines, to hold both our strength and our open, weeping hearts. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is what happens when you come in a good way to offer prayer, and instead, end up telling the entire damn truth of it all." —Cherie Dimaline, author of The Marrow Thieves

"Exceptional essays as arresting as her title. . . . Elliott ranges over a wide canvas. She tackles the vexed question of identity, both personal and political, powerfully linking larger questions of Indigenous life—from the residential school legacy to the loss of languages--to the unfolding of her own life." Maclean's

"Elliott is fearless here in revealing her own encounters with mental illness and family trauma. But these are not chapters of autobiography. They're meant as lenses through which author and reader can view what would otherwise be too vast to take in at once: the ongoing cultural catastrophe Indigenous people have experienced under colonialism." The Georgia Straight

"Treading on these heavy subjects, Elliott remains inquisitive and insightful, while never shying away from biting humour."NOW 

"A must read." PopMatters

"This book is hard, vital medicine. It is a dance of survival and cultural resurgence. Above all, it is breathtakingly contemporary Indigenous philosophy, in which the street is also part of the land, and the very act of thinking is conditioned by struggles for justice and well-being."—Warren Cariou, author of Lake of the Prairies

"These essays are of fiercest intelligence and courageous revelation. Here, colonialism and poverty are not only social urgencies, but violence felt and fought in the raw of the everyday, in embodied life and intimate relations. This is a stunning, vital triumph of writing."—David Chariandy, author of Brother

"We need to clone Alicia Elliott because the world needs more of this badass writer. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground showcases her peculiar alchemy, lighting the darkest corners of racism, classism, sexism with her laser-focused intellect and kind-hearted soul-searching. A fresh and revolutionary cultural critic alternately witty, vulnerable and piercing." —Eden Robinson, author of Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift

"I anticipate this book to be featured on every 'best of' and award list in 2019, and revered for years to come." —Vivek Shraya, author of I'm Afraid of Men and even this page is white

"Alicia Elliott has gifted us with an Indigenous woman's coming of age story, told through engagingly thoughtful, painfully poignant and enraging essays on race, love and belonging. Alicia is exactly the voice we need to hear now." —Tanya Talaga, author of Seven Fallen Feathers

"Elliott’s intelligence and inquisitive reflection are humbling; her book should be required reading." --Booklist