Site icon Susan Suntree

Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California


University of Nebraska Press, 2010, Updated paperback 2020, Audio Book 2021

Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California Audio Book now available: and wherever audio books are sold.

A history that is equal parts science and mythology, Sacred Sites offers a rare and poetic vision of a world composed of dynamic natural forces and mythic characters. The result is a singular and memorable account of the evolution of the Southern California landscape, reflecting the riches of both Native knowledge and Western scientific thought.

Beginning with Western science, poet Susan Suntree carries readers from the Big Bang to the present as she describes the origins of the universe, the shifting of tectonic plates, and an evolving array of plants and animals that give Southern California its unique features today. She tells of the migration of humans into the region, where they settled, and how they lived. Complementing this narrative and reflecting the Native people’s view of their own history and way of life, Suntree recounts the creation myths and songs that tell the story of the First People, of unforgettable shamans and heroes, and of the origins and migrations of the human beings.

Featuring contemporary photographs of rarely seen landmarks along with meticulous research, Sacred Sites provides unusual insight into how natural history and mythology, and scientific and intuitive thinking combine to create an ever-deepening sense of a place and its people.

Included are a preface by Gary Snyder, an informative introduction by Lowell Bean, a map, and twenty-nine photographs of sites noted in the book by internationally renowned photographer Juergen Nogai. There are extensive end notes and a bibliography.

Please visit the Sacred Sites facebook page and the University of Nebraska page.

UNP Web Page at:

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Southern California Independent Booksellers award in Nonfiction, 2011

PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in Poetic Narrative, 2011.

Pomona College Interdisciplinary Award for Visiting Artist

Best-Seller List

Los Angeles Times, October 2010

Print Reviews

Tribal College Journal: Jurgita Antoine, May 15, 2013

Parabola: Miriam Faugano, Winter 2012

Western American Literature: Brett Garcia Myhren, Fall 2011

Bloomsbury Review: Thomas Crowe, Summer 2011

Los Angeles Times: David Ulin, October 2010


“I have nothing but respect and awe for this absolutely unique work of art.” —Carolyn See

“A work of great spirit accomplished with patience and vision. Susan Suntree’s epic poem is a lovely weaving of science and myth. It is a work that sings.” —Gary Snyder

“‘Human beings are the ones who have the power, through their songs, to affect the balance of the world.’ What an immensely beautiful book!”—Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University and author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award

“Two titles make a case for the book as an instrument of communion, even grace. Reza Aslan’s anthology Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes From the Modern Middle East operates under the principle that the best way to know other cultures is by experiencing their stories, while Susan Suntree’s mythopoetic Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California weaves science, native legend and natural history into a 200-plus page poem. Both come rooted in diversity and complexity, what many of the best books are about.” —David Ulin, the Los Angeles Times

“Susan Suntree presents a readable and broadly accessible account of the history of the universe, Earth, and Southern California in this scholarly and creative blend of ancient myth and modern science.” —Raymond V. Ingersoll, UCLA professor of geology

Sacred Sites honors the power and beauty of our indigenous heritage and homeland. By knowing our history we better understand the present and our journey into the future.” —Anthony Morales, tribal chair, Gabrielino/Tongva Council of San Gabriel

“This symphonic epic in verse repatriates the four-billion-year history of Southern California to its native heart and soul. Scrupulously researched from hard-to-find sources of California Indian myth, song, legend, and tale, and completely committed to its diverse Native perspectives on human-land-animal relations, the work is funny, sad, mysterious, and wise. Here is an ambitious master myth of the grand vintage we thought went out with Charles Olson and Walt Whitman.” —Peter Nabokov, UCLA professor of Native American Studies

“Susan Suntree demonstrates her love for the natural world along with her deep respect for the First Peoples of Southern California. The cultures of the Tongva and the Acjachemem are rich beyond measure and well documented in stories and traditions. We are not gone. We still exist.” —Rhonda Robles, member of the Acjachemem Nation

“This book is a wonderful tribute to our city’s multi-layered history and to devoted, intensive research, as well as a testimony to the art of writing. It’s a work that will illuminate our understanding of Los Angeles for years and years to come.”

—Holly Prado, author of These Mirrors Prove It: Selected Poems and Prose 1970-2003


“Gary Snyder refers to Sacred Sites as an ‘epic’ in his Foreword; he might have compared it to religious and philosophical texts whose narratives are not of heroic feats of arms but are philosophical accounts of natural evolution, as in Lucretius’s investigation into the nature of things, or another long chronicle of elder time that, like Suntree’s, opens with the resonant phrase, ‘In the beginning.’

“Written in the free-verse style of field composition, this text offers itself as both an archaic and modernist scripture for a scientific era, in which “dark energy” shapes the ephemeral and permanent natural entities—the oceans, fields, mountains, and rivers—that flash across the reader’s eyes in dissociated leaps. The virtual absence of a self-referential speaker, even one as modest as Sikelianos, makes this bardic chronicle sound more postmodern—informational, data-rich, a better fit for a generation seeking alternatives to the poetics of personal reference.” —Laurence Goldstein, from Poetry Los Angeles: Reading the Essential Poems of the City  (University of Michigan Press, 2014)

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