Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 7, 2001 - Issue 33



'Songs of Shiprock Fair'


by Nathan Tohtsoni The Navajo Times


Luci Tapahonso still popular among Navajos and non-Navajos


FARMINGTON (March 15, 2001) - At a poetry reading by one of her 11 children Saturday, 87-year-old Lucille Tapahonso of Shiprock was in awe at the amount of attention her daughter attracted.

Tapahonso pointed to a photographer and the people who gathered around her award-winning poet daughter, Luci Tapahonso, March 9 at San Juan College in Farmington.

Luci Tapahonso read several poems and stories for about 45 minutes. About a 100 people - Navajo and non-Navajo - gave her a standing ovation after the reading.

She then signed copies of her books for another hour.

"When I come back home, my mom always has plans," Tapahonso, author of five books of poetry and one children's book, said. "I come back a lot. After living in Kansas, this is nothing to drive. I come back to see my mom. It's just a good feeling to come back."

The Shiprock native was an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, associate professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and now serves as professor of English at the University of Arizona in Tucson where she's teaching three graduate level courses on literature and lifestyles, and American Indian women writers.

Her roots to the area include attending Navajo Methodist Mission in Farmington and graduating from Shiprock High School.

After living in Kansas for nine years, Tapahonso attempts to make visits to the Navajo Nation at least once a month.

Since moving to Tucson, she has conducted writing workshops in the Shiprock schools, Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington and Rough Rock (Ariz.) Community School. In the upcoming months, she has a poetry reading in early April at the University of New Mexico-Gallup branch and in the Western Agency sometime in the spring.

"I do a lot of things with literacy that try to encourage people to read," she said. "I try to encourage Indian students to recognize their own wealth as far as their own stories."

Tapahonso read several stories from her latest book, "Songs of Shiprock Fair," and published poems that related to uranium, boarding school slang, racial prejudice, Navajo cowboys, comedian Vincent Craig's "Rita" character, trips to Farmington as a child, and a rough draft poem about her late father, Eugene Sr., who died three years ago.

It was the first time she read the untitled poem, written the day prior, before an audience and her mother who sat in the front row. The poem, obviously inspired by her latest trip, mentioned the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, catching up on family news of who was seen recently at the trading post and City Market, and her mother getting used to being alone.

"It'll probably change it a little," she said. "I was thinking it would have a different ending but when I finished, I knew that was the ending to it."

One of the many fans vying for her attention was respected poet Esther Belin of Durango, Colo. Belin, author of "From the Belly of my Beauty," winner of the 1999 American Book Award, had a photograph taken with Tapahonso.

"A lot of people compare us in cases of us being both Navajo and both being women," Belin said. "There's really not that much well-known Navajo poets. The first poet people think of is Luci and then Rex Lee Jim. Then, I guess, I'm sort of the newcomer. Scholars like to have one voice for a tribe; one spokesman. But for us, we're almost on two different sides. A lot of our content is about the same...but her writing is still so powerful. I was blown away."

On her latest trip to Shiprock, Tapahonso conducted a reading and writing workshop at Navajo Prep Monday and Tuesday, and visited Gallup on Saturday where she checked out the flea market and ate at Earl's Restaurant.

"That's our routine," she said, laughing. "I just tell my mom, 'You're my boss - tell me what to do.' My mom always has an agenda ready."

Among her recent awards, Tapahonso has been named "Storyteller of the Year" by Wordcraft Circles of Native Writers, one of the "Top Women of the Navajo Nation" by Maazo Magazine and grand marshal of the Northern Navajo Fair parade in 1992 and 1999. Lucille shared the recognition with her daughter during the parade two years ago.


Voices From the Gaps-Luci Tapahonso

Luci Tapahonso-Internet Public Library




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