YOU WOULDN'T EXPECT SUSAN POWER to joke that her claim to fame was studying law with Alan Dershowitz. Power, 32, who collected degrees from Radcliffe and Harvard Law, promptly put her diplomas in a drawer as soon as she graduated and began writing fiction in 1986. "It was a matter of being sensible," she says of her law school experience. "It helped my writing, because in law school they teach you to write precisely."
Power, who worked as a secretary and attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop before publishing Dancer, still lives in Cambridge, Mass., near Harvard Square—a long way from her bicultural upbringing in Chicago. Her mother, Susan, is descended from Chief Two Bears of the Yanktonnai branch of the Dakota Sioux, and her father, Carleton, a publishing sales representative who died when she was 11, was the great-great-grandson of the governor of New Hampshire during the Civil War. Growing up in a world of prep schools, Power also spent weekends mingling with Chicago's sizable Native American community.
"People in that community believe in magic, spirits and ghosts," she says. "My mother tells me my ancestors really wanted me to write Grass Dancer. I'm not a person of real faith—but I try to keep an open mind about it."