Laura Tohe is Diné and the current Navajo Nation Poet Laureate. She published 3 books of poetry, an anthology of Native womens’ writing and an oral history on the Navajo Code Talkers. Her librettos, Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio (2008) and Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World (2019), premiered in Arizona and France. Among her awards are the 2020 Academy of American Poetry Fellowship and the 2019 American Indian Festival of Writers Award. She is Professor Emerita with Distinction from ASU.
Alice Walker once said “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” As the 2020 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference draws to a close we hope that our attendees have shifted the ways in which they think about their writing and the power of their words. Whether you are a poet, a novelist, or are just beginning to choose a path, we want to send everyone off with a final celebration of writing as we hear from some of our most beloved Poets laureate of the Southwest.
In the world of poetry there seems to be greater choice to create images, to use and experiment with language and form in new ways. I think poetry, at least the poetry I’ve been writing, lends itself to collaboration with photographers, musicians, composers, and choreographers. Writing my first libretto was most challenging as I’d never written one and didn’t even know what it was when I accepted to work on it for Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio. My current project Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World, is also a collaborative piece. “Nahasdzáán” is a Diné word that translates to Mother Earth. I think our biggest challenge is not being able to talk over ideas in person as we live in separate countries. Performances are scheduled for 2019 in France and I want the audience to see beyond the stereotypes of how native peoples have been constructed in the past, that American Indigenous peoples have unique tribal nation identities and are not simply relics of the past. This is the other challenge I’m facing from an audience who will attend the performances.
In 2007, Arizona State University English professor Laura Tohe, whose father was a code talker, began an extensive search for surviving code talkers, with the goal of recording their recollections. In all, she interviewed 20 elderly code talkers and relatives of several deceased code talkers. The result is Code Talker Stories, an affecting collection of remembrances that detail in the code talkers' own words their military involvement. Infused with feeling and wisdom, these stories give readers an illuminating glimpse of Navajo culture, a way of life that helped ready the code talkers for the rigors of warfare.