AWP NO. 14: Lessons from the Indigenous Writers Caucus, by Heid Erdrich
- Blog Post by: Laurie Hertzel
- March 5, 2012 - 10:07 AM
BY HEID ERDRICH
Time to pack and jet on back to my lake-lovely, smaller city. AWP was a heaven of many powerful voices, but the voices of the Indigenous authors in "Sing: Anthology of Indigenous Poetry" resound for me like no others. What a wonder to hear Minnesota Chippewa tribal member Gordon Henry, along with Roberta Hill, Sherwin Bitsui, Santee Frazier, Elise Pachen (daughter of ballet legend Maria Tallchief) and Travis Hedge Coke contained in a book that covers the hemisphere. "Sing!" is from the University of Arizona Press and also includes Minnesota authors Marcie Rendon, Louise Erdrich, Jim Northrup, and my humble self. I left that reading determined to host one like it in the Twin Cities, so stay tuned.
The Indigenous Caucus taught me two things:
1) The word caucus may have its roots in an Anishinaabe/Algonquin word
2) We are LIVID about the banning of books by Indigenous writers in Arizona and how the mainstream lacks awareness of this growing trend in legislation
Tri-lingual writer Bojan Louis gave an elegant poem, shot through with an electrician’s metaphors in Navajo, Spanish, and English, to help us engage his passionate resistance to the school district’s removal of books in his hometown, Tucson. I paid close attention, since I am headed there next week for the Tucson Festival of the Book.
Later, I had a conversation with an editor who has a child in the school system in Tucson and learned that the school district stood to lose millions in funds if the curriculum that included the books continued to be taught. Is that not what we call extortion and intimidation?
Yes, Indigenous writing is often political. And I like it that way. But we have as diverse a range as any other half of the globe. Among us, not-to-be-ignored Navajo writer Saanii Adil’ini (Tacey M.) Atsitty. She was a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Sante Fe when I met her—though I can’t claim to have taught her and she’s got her Cornell MFA now. But it is always a wonderful thing to see our younger colleagues at AWP, whether we were their teachers or not. Tacey has finished a manuscript for her first book and when I asked who her dream publishers might be, Twin Cities’ Graywolf Press was on the short list.
Given how much of AWP is a reunion---after 20 plus years attending, for me it is 50 percent “good to see you again”---it is terrific when we have the chance to meet someone new. As I pack to return, I keep thinking of how I met Mary Bunten, President of The Writer’s Place literary center in Kansas City. We talked about how writers can better value their own work, how we can share our teaching through technology, what it is we really need to survive and thrive.
We were strangers one minute and in the next, deep in the kind of conversation you reflect on a long while. Mary left me saying, “You know I came here hoping to have just one good conversation and now I have.” That’s the thing about AWP that keeps me coming back.
AWP descends on Minneapolis in 2015. Poem up!
Heid Erdrich is a Minneapolis poet.
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