Gwen Nell Westerman
has taught English at Minnesota State University, Mankato since
1992. A citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, she is an
award-winning and nationally published writer who focuses her work
on Dakota history and language.
Gwen Nell Westerman,
a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, speaks at
a Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, news conference at the Minnesota
Humanities Center in St. Paul. Westerman on Thursday was named
Minnesota's poet laureate. She is the first Native American
selected as Minnesota's poet laureate. (Sarah Mearhoff / Forum
ST. PAUL Minnesota has made history by naming its first
Native American poet laureate: Gwen Nell Westerman, an English professor
at Minnesota State University Mankato and citizen of the Sisseton
Wahpeton Oyate tribe in South Dakota.
Westermans appointment was announced at a Thursday, Sept.
9, news conference at the Minnesota Humanities Center in St. Paul.
Westerman said Thursday that she is honored to take on the role
and as a Dakota woman, to be a presence for healing and understanding
and sharing more knowledge and information about our people, all
of our people, in the state of Minnesota because we all love this
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe,
joined Gov. Tim Walz in choosing Westerman for the role. Flanagan
said Westermans history-making appointment is significant
because Native people are still here, we have always been
here, we were in Minnesota before Minnesota was Minnesota, and we
will continue to be here long into Minnesotas future.
Part of the thing and the gift that makes us who we are is
the arts, our words. Its poetry. Its storytelling. It
is who we are to our core, Flanagan continued. I'm so
excited that Minnesotans are going to have the chance to get to
know Dr. Westerman more deeply as their poet laureate: A Dakota
woman who will be leading the way.
As the third-ever poet laureate in Minnesotas state history,
Westerman, through public appearances and engagement, will encourage
the public particularly young Minnesotans to connect
with and appreciate poetry, engage with marginalized populations
through poetry, elevate poets and authors in the state and more.
Walz said Thursday that the poet laureate serves as a beacon
of the best that Minnesota has to offer, inspiring new generations
of writers and readers.
One thing Im very excited about that I know our new
poet laureate will do is taking the gift and the joy of poetry to
young people, and being able to do it by showing them the vibrant
and diverse tapestry that makes up Minnesota, Walz said.
Westerman has taught in Minnesota State University Mankatos
English department since 1992, and focuses her award-winning, nationally
published writing on Dakota history and language. Her first poetry
book, "Follow the Blackbirds," was written in both English
and Dakota. Westerman also quilts, with permanent collections of
her quilt art housed throughout the Great Plains.
Her father is of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota, and
her mother of the Flint District of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
Westerman grew up in Oklahoma and Kansas and has lived in Minnesota
since 1991. She received her bachelors and masters in
English from Oklahoma State University, and her PhD in English from
the University of Kansas.