An American voice

Navaho Poet Luci Tapahonso to present her work at UAS

Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2002

A wayward husband, a baby granddaughter and country western singer George Strait are all featured in poet Luci Tapahonso's most recent book, "Blue Horses Rush In."

Tapahonso, a storyteller and award-winning writer and teacher, will present her work at 7 p.m. Friday at the Egan Library at the University of Alaska Southeast. UAS English professor Jim Hale called Tapahonso's visit the premiere event in the Evenings at Egan series this year.

"I've given papers on her poetry at literary conferences around the country," he said. "I think she's an incredible poet."

Tapahonso has published five books of poetry and three children's books over the past 20 years. Her latest book includes essays, poetry and short stories, including some retellings of traditional Navaho tales.

She was born and raised in the Diné (Navaho) community of Shiprock, N.M., and her poetry draws on her experiences as a Native American woman, and a woman of the West. She uses colloquialisms and rhythms of Navaho speech in her writing, but Hale said she transcends being a Native poet. Her voice is an American voice, he said, which makes her work accessible.

"I see things in her poetry where she's trying to reinvigorate poetry with the sounds and voices of a real community. Not just her local community, but a larger community, an American village," he said. "She's very lively. She reminds me of the great Roman poet, Horace. She has the same great insight into the lives of people."

Tapahonso taught English and American Indian Studies at the University of Kansas for nine years before moving to Tucson, Ariz., in 1999, where she teaches at the University of Arizona.

In addition to her teaching, she is active as a Native leader and advocate.

She has appeared in several PBS films including "The Desert is No Lady," "Art of the Wild" and "Woven by Grandmothers: An Exhibition of 19th Century Navajo Textiles."

Tapahonso and her work will be featured in a half-hour segment of an upcoming PBS documentary on American literature entitled "American Passages."

Tapahonso has served on the board of trustees for the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, on the board of directors of the American Indian Law Resource Center and on literature panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. Her efforts to establish the Indigenous Nations Studies Masters Degree Program at the University of Kansas earned her the 2002 American Indian Leadership Award.

For the past two years, UAS has sponsored the Evenings at Egan series at 7 p.m. each Friday in the fall. The series features UAS professors and guests highlighting work in arts, humanities and sciences. Admission is free and open to the public.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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