"The Diné Reader" examines, shares the diversity of Navajo literature

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The diversity Navajo literature is being lauded and shared in the recently published, "The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature.

It is the first of its kind to contain poetry, fiction and nonfiction compositions of writers from a single tribe and was published in March by The University of Arizona Press.

Inspiration for the book came several years ago from student in Connie Jacobs' English class at San Juan College, who told her that he was not aware of any Diné writers.

"I knew I wanted to do something so that other young Diné – whether they're on a reservation, in border towns or in towns far from a reservation – they would hear poems and stories about them, about their relatives, about their family, about the land, about the culture, about the language – that's how this book got started," Jacobs said during the Nov. 10 event at the college to mark the book's publication.

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Gloria J. Emerson reads an unpublished poem during an event for "The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature" on Nov. 10 in the Connie Gotsch Theatre at San Juan College in Farmington.

The idea eventually led her to collaborate with Diné writer Esther G. Belin, Northern Arizona University professor Jeff Berglund and linguistic anthropologist Anthony Webster to develop and edit the book.

Belin explained that boarding schools were Diné students' first exposure to the English language, and it was there where poetry was used as a vehicle to further their understanding of English.

"Our literary history is pretty long. It started with the first boarding schools and it's also super broad," Belin said.

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Esther G. Belin autographs a copy of "The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature" on Nov. 10 in the Connie Gotsch Theatre at San Juan College in Farmington.

The book's introduction explains that relationship and how it flourished from community poets and writers to highly recognized names like poets Luci Tapahonso and Laura Tohe.

It also has a resource to help teachers and readers in understanding how Diné literature incorporates forms such as humor, intergenerational trauma, and cultural identity and knowledge in writing. 

Michael Thompson, who has taught Native American literature since 1977, wrote the resource.

He said he would like the book to serve as a model for other tribes to use in developing their own literary anthologies.

"But no matter what 'The Diné Reader' will remain the first and it will be certainly regarded as a model for how to do it well," Thompson said.

The book is comprised of compositions from 33 Diné writers whose work reflect their experiences, observations, beliefs and concerns.

Belin joined fellow Diné poets and writers Tina Deschenie, Gloria J. Emerson, Luci Tapahonso, Tacey Atsitty and Byron F. Aspaas at the event.

Jacobs said Aspaas was the student who inspired the book. He is now a writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

As the group sat on stage, behind them was a large image of the book cover. One by one, they read their poems and short stories as well as unpublished works.

Cheryl Wolfe, an English teacher at Navajo Preparatory School, brought students from the school's gifted and talented writing program.

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Tina Deschenie, left, meets a Navajo Preparatory School student at an event for "The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature" in the Connie Gotsch Theatre at San Juan College in Farmington.

"It was something I knew the students would value," Wolfe said about why they attended.

She said her hope is that students become more aware about Diné writers.

"I feel that it's important for them to have that exposure with people who are Native American, who can show them that it's OK to write about whatever they need to write about – what's within their hearts, their minds and their souls," Wolfe said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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