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Navajo Country, AWP in Chicago, More Spring Events, and News

March 6, 2012

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Pictured above are the students from St. Michael’s Indian School.

February 1-3, 2012, I was the guest of Navajo Technical College, St. Michael’s Indian School at Window Rock, and Diné College, Tsaile, AZ.  All three institutions are on the Navajo Reservation.

While visiting Navajo Technical College, Crown Point, NM, I read from my poetry, and my fiction to a large group of students and community folks.  It was wonderful.  My host was friend and colleague, Dr. Wesley Thomas, professor and director of Diné Studies.  Dr. Thomas, anthropologist and author is one of the three editors of Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality, and Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo, (along with Walter Williams and Toby Johnson).  We first met in 1994 at a conference in Iowa City, IA, and he’s an amazing scholar.

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Pictured above: Dr. Wesley Thomas and students at Navajo Technical College.

At St. Michael’s Catholic School, Window Rock, AZ, I was the guest of teacher Joan Levitt’s class and her class titled, Senior British and World Literature.  She held a senior Socratic seminar on my novel Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story.  The students were incredibly well prepared (which speaks to the preparation of Ms. Levitt) and discussed questions of race; American Indian history; baseball among Southeastern tribes; and whether, at the end of the novel, Hope Little Leader really does change history by winning “his last game.”  I was deeply impressed with their thoughtful approach to the novel.

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Senior Shayney Begay designed the art sign in two languages, Choctaw and Navajo, “Hello or greetings”

On Thursday night, February 2, we left St. Michael’s at Window Rock and traveled by mini-van up, up, up, into the mountains through the snow and over the ridge to Diné College.  Diné College, locarted in Tsaile was founded in 1968 and is the first of 37 tribal colleges.  Frankly, I was not sure we were going to make it over the mountains to Diné College, but our driver Cleofus Nelson, a first-year secondary English teacher, was fearless and had driven the road to Diné College a jillion times. Cleofus is currently pursuing his masters’ degree in counseling while he teaches at St. Michaels.

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Pictured are teachers Joan Levitt and Cleofus Nelson.

We were hosted by Diné poet Orlando White, professor at Diné College, and, head librarian Herman Peterson.  The Diné College library is magnificent and I read in a room of glass, the R.C. Gorman room, both cozy and intimate. The audience was great; they came out on a snowy night to be there.  By the way, if you have not read Orlando’s book, Bone Light, (Red Hen Press, 2009) rush out and get it, or Click buy it, online!  Book reviewer Elizabeth Robinson writes of his poetry:  “Orlando White’s Bone Light recreates poetry from the molecular level.”  Writer, poet, and artist Layli Longsoldier gave an introduction to my reading that made me want to cry.  She talked about art, and the landscape of writing.  I can’t thank everyone enough at these three institutions for making my visit feel like I’d pulled on a warm blanket.  

And Now This – the AWP

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“Writing the Middle East” panelists:  me, Jim Wilson, Allison Hedge Coke, Matthew Shenoda, and Hayan Charara

This year I was also chair of the AWP panel, “Writing the Middle East, Crossing Genre, Crossing Borders.”  (See group shot above.)  We discussed crossing “West to East” into landscapes of olives and almonds, Arabian deserts and mountains, love affairs and war zones, green lines, religions, and concrete walls that divide. Our panel explored how translation and transliteration play a role in writing the Middle East. Participants included, Matthew Shenoda, author of Somewhere Else, that brings pre-Islamic Copts to life in Egypt; Arab-American poet Hayan Charara, editor of Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry. His PhD in literature and creative writing is from the Univ. of Houston.  He’s also President of RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers; and Jim Wilson, archaeologist, memoirist, assistant professor of English at Seminole State.  He writes of seven years in Beirut Lebanon’s civil war; Allison Hedge Coke, poet, Reynolds Chair Professor at University of Nebraska, Kearney, and author of six books.  She explores her Jordan travel experience.  And me.  I read about my year in Amman, Jordan during the 2011 Arab Spring, and about my new novel that reveals a Choctaw in the 1917 Arab Revolt.

See the cool shot video of the AWP:  http://brevity.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/awp-2012-the-movie/

It’s been no secret that I’ve been under the weather for a few months, but all better now, back to blogging about what I’m up to in the universe these days.  I just returned from AWP’s conference in Chicago.  I want to thank Denise Low, former AWP President, for all her hard work for American Indians and Indigenous Writers during her tenure as President.  Egad, 11,000 writers this year at the AWP conference with some 18 Native writers presenting at the three-day-gathering in Chicago, IL.  I’ve been told by AWP conference organizers that Natives will no longer be assured of an Indigenous Caucus panel because each of the “caucus events” takes a slot away from a proposal that would otherwise have been accepted to the schedule.  

 Do what? Say again?

This seems odd to me since the AWP Indigenous Caucus proposal has always competed (or acted as if they were competing) for a panel slot.  And I take issue with the idea that American Indians/Indigenous peoples are taking a slot away from someone else. . . (this sounds a bit sinister).

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Pictured above: AWP Indigenous Caucus panelists:  Gordon Henry, Bojan Louis, Phil Morgan, me.

As a response to this kind of thing, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet (glove in my case) and tried to give a rousing speech to the American Indians/Natives/Indigenous people at our AWP Indigenous Caucus panel this year.  I don’t know what will happen next year, but I’m confident that  Native writers at the AWP Indigenous Caucus are not going to take a slot away from a more worthy panel.  Hopefully this will work itself out before the May 3 AWP proposal deadline.  (Will someone please divide 11,000 attendees by 18.  Native writers are growing in numbers and fast at AWP.  But we are a tiny minority. )

(Pictured left is Tacey Atsitty, and far right, Layli Longsoldier. In the middle is Layli’s and Orlando White’s daughter. Someone please jog my memory for her name.  She was a great listener at my Diné College reading.)

My news is that I’m working on two books, a memoir in short stories, and a novel, and finishing up some wildly overdue essays, (I know, I know I’m late, I’m more than late) and attending a spate of conferences this spring.  My next upcoming conference March 28-31 2012 is the Native American Literature Symposium (NALS) http://www.mnsu.edu/nativelit/ in Albuquerque New Mexico at the Isleta Pueblo. I’ll be giving a keynote Friday evening at 7 p.m., March 30, titled:  “Writing the Crest of Revolution: A Choctaw In King Abdullah’s Court.”

Hope to see you there!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrice Hollrah permalink
    March 6, 2012 7:16 pm

    Glad to know that you are feeling better. Can’t wait to hear you read at NALS.

  2. LeAnne Howe permalink
    March 6, 2012 9:09 pm

    Thank you Patrice! Can’t wait to see you.

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