Q&A with Natalie Diaz


Special to the Star

A member of the Mojave and Pima Native American tribes of the southwest, award-winning poet Natalie Diaz expresses the struggles and successes of her culture through her work. Diaz spoke about her writings Sept. 12 at the Wittliff Collections in Alkek Library.

AM: What inspired you to write poetry?
ND: I grew up with four brothers and sisters in my house. Growing up, my family always told stories about the world around us, and for me that started my interest in poetry. After I hurt my knee playing basketball, I started to focus more on my writing and that eventually led me to becoming a poet.

AM: As a poet, was it difficult to find someone to sponsor your work?
ND: Not for me it wasn’t. I was lucky because the people who knew me when I played basketball also knew me as a writer. My fans on the court became the fans of my writing. Eventually I got my poems published in a journal and a distinguished poet asked to see my work. I compiled them into a collection, and he helped me get it published. The process, however, did involve a lot of writing, so it was hard work.

AM: How would you describe your poems to someone who has never read them?
ND: Majestic and surreal. They sometimes explore the darker experiences of life on the reservation, but with some humor and lightheartedness mixed in. The imagery sort of takes you back to what it was like for a family like ours growing up in not-so-great conditions.

AM: Would you say your heritage is reflected in your poems?
ND: I would say it is reflected in not just my poems, but in everything I do. My family is always inspiring me and where I come from, my background and such, influences me to write about what it was like. I would say that my heritage is the main reason I write poetry.

AM: Have you ever considered writing novels or short stories, or are you content with writing poetry?
ND: I actually have written short stories that have been published along with my collections. Writing novels is something I don’t think I could do though.

AM: What advice would you give college and high school students who want to become poets?
ND: Reading is the most important thing a young poet can do because it gives them the opportunity to explore the world around them, so read often. Also, write down everything that comes to mind on a typical day that might inspire you to write a poem about. Everyday life is filled with opportunities of inspiration. Reading and writing are two of the easiest things any young poet should do.