On the Shelf: Navajo poet laureate highlights the value of sharing stories

Community Reports

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Author, educator and the Navajo Nation’s Inaugural Poet Laureate Luci Tapahonso is paving the way for more Indigenous visibility in her writing. She has written many books which feature her poetry and stories, many of which center around her experiences and values as a Navajo woman.

Having been born and raised in Shiprock in the Navajo Nation reservation, Tapahonso said telling stories has been an integral part of her life for as long as she could remember. “In our culture, we’re very much centered around storytelling. Our prayers, our songs, our rituals, and our stories are based in talking and singing,” Tapahonso said.

When she was growing up, she recognized a distinct lack of representation in the written media that was made available to her. “I remember when I learned to read, I would read books but couldn’t find anything that had any Navajo characters, or anything that was familiar to me. I replaced characters and locations with people and places I knew,” Tapahonso said.

A result of that is the conscious desire to highlight her history and heritage through the stories she tells. “I hope readers take away that one of the things that really keeps us together and gives us strength is our culture, our beliefs, and our deep connection to the land and our relatives,” Tapahonso said.

What drew her to writing poetry was the brevity of it, Tapahonso said. “It conveys a whole experience in the fewest possible words. I found that incorporating Navajo into poetry that’s primarily in English gives it a distinctive flavor. I like incorporating Navajo in my poetry because Navajo words give more nuance,” Tapahonso said.

It wasn’t until she was in college when Tapahonso considered writing more seriously at the encouragement of one of her professors, something she carried with her during her years as a college professor. “I really like to just see students’ work evolve over the semester and maybe over the years, and for them to find their own voices and to write about things that are really important to them,” Tapahonso said. “Seeing them find the richness and how unique poetry can be when you write from a place where one knows her history and her homeland. I think that’s really important, especially here in the Southwest.”

Tapahonso has worked as a professor at the University of New Mexico, the University of Arizona, and the University of Kansas. In 2013, Tapahonso was awarded the title of Inaugural Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation and various other awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas and the award for Best Poetry from the Mountains and Plain’s Booksellers Association.

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