Tribe's first Poet Laureate: your daily life is a poetic life

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

CROWNPOINT, May 23, 2013

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Luci Tapahonso

W hen Luci Tapahonso was asked to be the Navajo Nation's first Poet Laureate, she immediately thought of one goal.

"I really want to let students know that their daily life is really a poetic life," she said during an interview with the Navajo Times.

The Navajo Nation officially named Tapahonso as its first Poet Laureate during an induction ceremony held May 16 at Navajo Technical College.

As the nation's Poet Laureate, Tapahonso, who was born in Shiprock, N.M. in 1953, will promote literature and poetry, as well as the Navajo language and culture, according to Irvin Morris, chair of Navajo Technical College's school of arts and humanities.

"It's really amazing and I'm humbled by it," Tapahonso said. "I don't think of this position as being mine, but of my family, community and my people.

"We've been close to extinction so many times," she added, "I hope that I can express that among young people that to be Navajo really is something oÅf honor. It's not just anything, it's not to be made fun of, and we were born into a dignified people."

At the induction ceremony, NTC President Elmer Guy said, "The goal of designating a chief poet is to encourage other Navajo poets, writers, filmmakers, and artists to realize how important their work is to the continuance and growth of Navajo contemporary culture. Luci represents the best of what it is to be Diné, honoring our traditions, while at the same time forming a contemporary voice that speaks beautifully to all people."

Morris was the person to introduce the idea of Tapahonso to NTC officials and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly with the reasoning that other nations and states have one.

Things fell even more into place when Vice President Rex Lee Jim jumped on board, which allowed the college to form a committee.

"Luci's work is known across the globe," Morris said "We're the first Native nation to name a Poet Laureate. We're promoting our own people who have become accomplished. We have to recognize our own people for there achievements."

Of Tapahonso, Miranda Haskie, faculty member at Diné College, said, "She's an incredible poet. This is a historical moment for us as Navajo people. She speaks about our lives as Navajo people, the importance of our history, (and) where we come from …"

Tapahonso credits her parents for much of her success.

"My parents could never conceive of this, neither could I but the way they took care of us it's like they were laying the path without knowing it."

She is the author of five books of poetry and stories and one children's book. Her first published poem was "Raisin Eyes" in 1987, a poem about Navajo cowboys.

Tapahonso received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of New Mexico, both in English. She currently teaches creative writing and American literary studies at UNM.

Tapahonso is Ashiihi, born for Todichi' iinii.

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