Acclaimed Native Poet Natalie Diaz to Teach and Perform at Red Cloud
posted March 7, 2017
Native poet and indigenous language advocate Natalie Diaz was on campus as part of The Heritage Center’s Visiting Poet Series. In addition to leading workshops with Red Cloud high school students throughout her visit, she read her work in a public performance in Cuny Commons at Red Cloud High School on Thursday, March 9 at 6 pm.
Born and raised on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, Diaz fell in love with basketball and earned a full scholarship to Old Dominion University in Virginia. It was there that she started writing poetry, much of it reflecting on the unique challenges facing Native American children. After college she played basketball professionally in Europe and Asia, but continued to write—and ultimately returned to Old Dominion to earn her Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Her first collection of poems, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” published in 2012, was described as an “ambitious…beautiful book” by New York Times reviewer Eric McHenry. In addition to her writing, Diaz has also directed a language revitalization program and is working with elders in order to preserve the Mojave language.
In an interview on PBS NewsHour, Diaz spoke of how she has used writing as a tool for self-exploration—and to process the realities of growing up on a reservation. She explained that, “Writing is kind of a way for me to explore why I want things and why I’m afraid of things and why I worry about things. And for me, all of those things represent a kind of hunger that comes with being raised in a place like this.”
During her three-day visit Diaz will work with students at Red Cloud and Oglala Lakota College through a series of classes and workshops. She is the fifth poet to spend time on Red Cloud’s campus as part of the Visiting Poet Series, which brings poets and spoken word artists from all over the country to support the youth poetry movement on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Poets work with students in school and after school on writing and performing poetry, on creative expression, and on healing through the written word. The short residency culminates in a free public performance for students, families, and community members.
“Natalie Diaz’s poetry recounts her own powerful experiences growing up on a reservation—and that’s something our own student writers understand and explore in their own poetry and spoken word,” said Audrey Jacobs, The Heritage Center’s museum educator and coordinator of the Visiting Poet Series. “I know that Natalie’s work—both the beauty and the pain that are reflected in it—will really resonate with our students and the broader community. We couldn’t be more thrilled that she is the next artist in our series, and we hope everyone will come to join us this Thursday evening to celebrate her work.”
Photos © Red Cloud Indian School