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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Chippewa Songs
- Louise Erdrich
- Ghost Dance Songs
- Thomas Harriot
- Black Elk & John G. Neihardt
- Simon J. Ortiz
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Stories of the Beginning of the World
- Luci Tapahonso
- Roger Williams
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Simon J. Ortiz (b. 1941)

Photo by Ansel Adams, Acoma Pueblo
[5887] Ansel Adams, Looking across the Street toward Houses, "Acoma Pueblo" (1933), courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch.

Simon J. Ortiz Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Simon J. Ortiz's world is one of mixtures and doublings, of multiple identities: he has an American name and an Acoma name, Hihdruutsi; he is from the Southwest but lives in Toronto, Canada. Born and raised in the Acoma Pueblo community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ortiz received his early education from the Bureau of Indian Affairs school on the Acoma reservation. He later attended the University of New Mexico. Ortiz currently teaches in the department of English at the University of Toronto.

Storytelling has always been a part of his life. As he explains, "I think that because storytelling is a process, that is a dynamic of culture. . . . [I]t was with that first utterance of sound that your parents or those who are closest to you in your family utter that first sound or that first word and you first conceive of it as sound that has meaning. It could be a murmur, it could be a song, it could be your name." His poetry explores the significance of individual origins and journeys, which he, like many American Indian writers, sees as forming a vital link in the continuity of life. Drawing on American Indian oral traditions, his poems emphasize orality, narrative, and the actual worldly effects of language. As Ortiz explains, storytelling is about more than just the style of the poetry: "The purpose of that story sharing or storytelling is . . . conversing, and the story listeners are conversing with us. We are sharing, or participating. And it's the storyteller participating by his telling, and the listener participating by his or her listening. So it's an exchange. It's a dialogue. It's an event."

Ortiz's poetry is also influenced by the sounds of the oral tradition and by the way that he conjures up concrete images and uses repetition. His poems, therefore, feel like they are being transmitted through the spoken word more than the written word. He has said that "Indians always tell a story. . . . The only way to continue is to tell a story and there is no other way. Your children will not survive unless you tell something about them—how they were born, how they came to this certain place, how they continued." Ortiz advocates a political literature, eschewing the idea that poetry should be above or beyond political concerns. While this is less obviously true of the poems featured in the video, it is more evident in such poems as "At the Salvation Army" (from From Sand Creek).

Perhaps most crucially, Ortiz's poetry grows out of his experience with the Pueblo landscape and the cultures that live with it. Like fellow Pueblo poet Leslie Marmon Silko, Ortiz expresses concern through his work that Western worldviews treat the land as a property to be used rather than as a life-force to be respected. Ortiz's books of poetry include Going for Rain (1976), Poems from the Veterans Hospital (1977) (in which "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH" appears), From Sand Creek (1982), Woven Stone (1992) (in which "My Mother and My Sisters" appears), After and Before the Lightning (1994), and Out There Somewhere (2002).

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