Crownpoint — When National Public Radio asked Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Luci Tapahonso to write a letter to her hometown of Shiprock last fall, she decided to focus on her relationship to the landscape.
"I am from Shiprock, the huge rock formation whose name translates into 'tall leader' or 'the rock with wings.' I am one of your thousands of children who will always honor your dark blue silhouette," Tapahonso said on Monday, reading to students at Navajo Technical University.
The acclaimed Diné poet read from her poetry and short story collection during an event celebrating the university's new bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing and new media.
Last April, the university named Tapahonso — who has written five books of poetry and short stories and one children's book — the tribe's first poet laureate.
Tapahonso's poems and short stories telling about growing up and experiencing life on the Navajo Nation are examples of what the program would like to produce.
This is the first semester the degree is being offered. It received approval from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which provides program accreditation, last year. The degree requires 133 credit hours during a four-year course of study.
The program was developed to produce skilled writers who are technologically savvy so they can continue the narrative legacy of the Navajo people and expand its reach into the digital realm, according to the program description.
Creative Writing Instructor Irvin Morris said the program will teach students how to develop the tools they need to share personal experiences, from the Native American perspective, and how to publish their works using print or digital media.
"I think it's real important that Native people tell their own stories, so this is a way to start doing that," said Morris, who has been teaching at the university for three years.
When Morris was growing up, he said he never heard of Native American writers and Tapahonso was among the first. That presence, he said, continues to expand with work produced by writers like Sherman Alexie, Sherwin Bitsui and Orlando White.
Although the new program has only one student enrolled, Morris says it will continue to evolve and eventually produce a number of writers and filmmakers.
Another goal for the program is for students to incorporate the Navajo language into their print and digital works as a way to continue the language.
"I think that one way of making the Navajo language relevant to our young people, to ensure as much as we can that it continues, is to make it relevant to them and make it useful in today's world and that's where new media comes in," Morris said.
As part of the celebration, some students from the bachelor of applied science program screened their short films.
One of the students was Shawn L. Tsosie, of Chinle, Ariz., who showed a three-minute video that focused on the university's archery team.
Tsosie is a year from graduating but has been learning about new media through the applied science program.
"Being in this program is exciting, nerve racking and challenging all into one," Tsosie said. "(You've) got to be patient with it and have that focus in following your instincts and your passion."