Luci Tapahonso Named as Navajo Nation’s First Poet Laureate

The Navajo Nation’s first-ever Poet Laureate has been named and will be officially introduced to the public on May 17.

On April 24, Elmer Guy, president of Navajo Technical College, announced the appointment of Luci Tapahonso as the Navajo Nation’s first Poet Laureate. Tapahonso will officially assume her role for the two-year position at the college’s commencement ceremonies on May 17, Guy said in revealing the award.

The goal of designating a chief poet is “to encourage other Navajo poets, writers, film makers and artists to realize how important their work is to the continuance and growth of Navajo contemporary culture,” Guy said at a press conference announcing Tapahonso’s honor. “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.”

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Tapahonso has written five books of poetry and stories, as well as a children’s book. Saánii Dahataal (1993) and Blue Horses Rush In (1997) are two of her better-known collections, both published by the University of Arizona Press. She also holds the distinction of being named Storyteller of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers in 1999, a year after being recognized with the Region Book Award from the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association, the Navajo Nation said in a press release.

She is one of 11 children and grew up in Shiprock, New Mexico, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of New Mexico. Today she is on the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian and is a 2006 winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas; received the 1989 New Mexico Eminent Scholar Award from the New Mexico Commission of Higher Education, and in 1981 earned the Southwestern Association of Indian Affairs Literature Fellowship.

Honoring poets and writers is yet another manifestation of sovereignty, said Irvin Morris, chairman of the college’s Arts and Humanities department.

“In becoming a nation it’s important that we develop in all areas, including the arts,” said Morris, who was also one of the committee members who helped select the laureate. “States and other nations honor their writers by giving them different kinds of recognition, so it’s only fitting that we see ourselves as a nation and have a poet laureate. Who better to be that poet laureate than our most accomplished and recognized figure?”

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Luci Tapahonso Named as Navajo Nation's First Poet Laureate

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