April 8, 2021
The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature is unprecedented. It showcases the breadth, depth, and diversity of Diné creative artists and their poetry, fiction, and nonfiction prose. This wide-ranging anthology brings together writers who offer perspectives that span generations and perspectives on life and Diné history. The collected works display a rich variety of and creativity in themes: home and history; contemporary concerns about identity, historical trauma, and loss of language; and economic and environmental inequalities.
“I’ve met young Navajo college students attending universities throughout the United States who are surprised to discover that Navajos have been writing books for decades—Blackhorse Mitchell’s Miracle Hill was published decades ago, in 1967. The students, excited about stories and poems that reflect their own experiences, ask for the names of Navajo authors and their book titles with hopes of finding them in their local bookstores and libraries. Such works invoke memories of their families, reservation life, and cultural concerns. They also capture the red rock panoramas of their homeland, where stories and everyday life are perpetually intertwined. Each book contains an entire world and gives voice to Navajo thought and worldview with the utmost care and respect for language and ancestral knowledge.
Navajo poets and writers often refer to Diné bizaad as the source for their written work. Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Laura Tohe writes, “Diné bizaad is medicine for healing, was used as a secret code during World War II by the Navajo Code Talkers, and has blessed me in writing poetry, stories, essays, and now writing librettos for operas. It has grounded me to Navajo spirituality and community.”
Whether Diné bizaad was forcibly repressed at boarding schools, or because a generation of traumatized parents were convinced not to teach their children, these writers rediscover it in their written work. The layers of each line, image, or word carry not only personal story but the entirety of a people’s history and worldview. These stories restore memory and reconnect a people, some of whom have moved beyond the sacred mountains to work and live in distant cities. These stories are doorways opening inward, back into the world that is always home.
This anthology will aid in making known to readers the incredible diversity Navajo literature offers. These poems and stories are as vast and dynamic as the land on which they were imagined and created. The editors of this anthology have presented the works in a format that honors culture. They have provided interviews with the authors and resources for teachers to aid in the teaching of these works, elucidating the cultural context to bring greater depth to the reader’s understanding. Elizabeth Woody, in her interview, gracefully sums up the thesis of this collection: “I write from the core belief the word of our ancestors still reverberates in our present. It is a whisper in the grasses moving in all directions.” With the publication of this book, the whisper has grown louder and cannot be ignored any longer. The songs and memories of our ancestors continue to reverberate in these contemporary stories and poems; they bridge worlds and restore beauty within all things.”