Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Navajo Students Explore Writing at Indigenous Book Festival

Ophelia Hu, Reader to Reader’s Navajo Nation Outreach Coordinator, writes about the exciting field trip her students from St Michaels, Arizona took last week.

Last Friday, the extracurricular Writers’ Workshop of St. Michael Indian School (SMIS) attended the Indigenous Book Festival at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. This year’s festival focus was “Authenticity and Indigeneity.”

Nine of the most dedicated Writers’ Workshop attendants were selected to challenge their abilities, improve their writing skills, and learn from masters of the craft.

After a three-hour morning journey, our day began with a high school writing panel, in which the SMIS students had the full attention of two MFA instructors from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and learned valuable techniques for both poetry and prose-writing. One instructor marveled that our students had honed such unique voices.

After the writing panel, the students and I had the honor of listening to a presentation and poetry recitation by Chamoru poet Craig Santos Perez, who wrote on food colonization in Guam. Craig’s concerns reflected a similar food current in the Navajo Nation and many other reservations, and our students appreciated his great performance.

In the afternoon, we split into four panels depending on our interests, ranging from spiritual healing in literature to interviews of famous poets (including the first Navajo Poet Laureate Luci Tapahonso) to weaving cultural histories into modern narratives.

Throughout the day, I’d seen them engage critically with difficult conversations about authenticity, heritage, and literature.   

These young writers have now spent months honing their crafts. This is some students’ second year in Writers’ Workshop. Through their time, they’ve each better crafted the vehicle through which they tell their stories, share their experiences, and relay their hopes. The maturity with which they do so astounds me, and every piece I have the honor of reading or hearing leaves me humbled.

And then, all along the long drive home through the dark, a few girls sing in unison to a One Direction song; howls of laughter come after a silly joke; they learn what hummus and couscous are; they dance in their seats and dream of decorating the dorm rooms they’ll occupy next year. And I remember that, despite all their maturity and potential and talents, they’re still children – incredible children.

(Reader to Reader’s Navajo Outreach Coordinator is funded through the generous support of the Fordham Street Foundation, the Hiatt Family Foundation, and Jean and Lynn Miller.)

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