poet, scholar and educator Dr. Geraldine Mendoza Gutwein was awarded
one of only 10 National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching Development
Fellowships this year.
NEH awarded the $21,000 fellowship to Dr. Mendoza Gutwein so she
could devote time to Toward an Understanding of Teaching Native
American Literature from a Multidisciplinary Approach, which
will focus on how to use Native American art to broaden students
understanding of Native American literature, and change some of
the stereotypical and romanticized notions that persist in regards
to that subject.
who also has Mexican American heritage, is a member of the Cheyenne
River Sioux Tribe and was raised on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation
in South Dakota. She currently teaches Native American literature,
Creative Writing and Developmental Reading courses at Harrisburg
Area Community College in Harrisburg, Penn.
idea for the research project came to the educator after years of
teaching and interacting with mostly non-Native students.
students are taking literature courses to learn about culture,
she said. But when we start to discuss it I can tell that
theyre looking at it from images that are stereotypical, romanticized
notions of Native Americans.
example, I have had students who come to my class and say well,
I was just in Arizona and I really loved the artwork and I thought
I needed to study Native American literature so I could know Native
American culture. A trip to Arizona is wonderful because it
is a beautiful place, but the Native American population of Arizona
is just one part of the Native American population of America.
Ive had students appear and say that I had a Cherokee
great-grandmother and so I want to learn about Native American culture
because she was Cherokee. The student wants to get back to
a cultural root without considering the broader history.
that point, Gutwein she started to incorporate contemporary Native
American film and music into the course to help her students get
a broader understanding of the literature and culture of Native
America. She then realized that the visual representation in contemporary
art could also help in teaching about the literature and that, many
of the recent students are very visually oriented due to the various
media made available to them and that a visual component could play
those visual components will take Gutwein to a number of different
places, including the National Museum of the American Indian in
Washington, D.C., which houses a large art collection from all over
the hemisphere, and to the Heard Museum in Phoenix.
also going to be interviewing local artisans on the Pine Ridge and
Cheyenne River reservations, regarding the fusion of traditional
and contemporary art forms and themes in their work; and there will
be many things to do for this project.
returning to that area of South Dakota, Gutwein will be near her
hometown of Eagle Butte. It was there, in a family of 11 children
that she became inspired to write and teach.
always dreamed of being a writer, she said. I loved
stories and story telling so for me writing became quite natural
and I became very serious about it when I was in my 20s, when I
was also really encouraged by some of my early professors.
went on to have two poetry books published, Every Orbit of
the Circle, (Rabbit Press, 1995) a chapbook, and The
Stories She Told (2003), a full length collection also published
by Rabbit Press based on stories told by her grandmother. Along
with reading from her work in venues in Pennsylvania, New Jersey,
Kansas and South Dakota, Gutwein teaches Creative Writing and is
the director of the nationally known Wildwood Writers Festival,
held every year at Harrisburg Area Community College.
entry into the field of education was what she called, a natural
had so many role models who were teachers my mother, my sisters,
my brother it just seemed like the natural thing to do and.
once I got into the classroom I thought it was really wonderful
and that this is what I want to do.
that point, she undertook several years of study which lead to a
Bachelor of Science in English education from Blackhills State University;
a Master of Arts in English at the distinguished Breadloaf School
of English, Middlebury College; and then a Ph.D. in English from
Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
got her start as an English teacher at Cheyenne Eagle Butte
High School in Eagle Butte, S.D. in 1982 and eventually came to
HACC in 1991 where she further developed her career as an English,
Creative Writing and Native American literature professor. Along
the way, she won a different national honor the National
Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Excellence in
Teaching Award for 2007.
her most recent honor, she said, Im very excited about
the fellowhip because it gives me an opportunity to study and bring
something new to the classroom and my teaching.