Sherman Alexie’s Top Ten Native American Poets

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In this week’s show, author Sherman Alexie praises the artistic and storytelling ability of Native Americans, so we asked Alexie to share the names of some of his favorite Native writers. Here’s his list and a sampling of their work.

Esther Belin

Esther Belin

Esther Belin is a Diné (Navajo) poet and multimedia artist who was raised in Los Angeles after her parents were relocated from the Southwest in the 1950s as part of the federal Indian relocation policy. Her work often reflects the experience of Native Americans living in urban centers.

Night Travel

I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
My mother
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.

I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.

The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a
   thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.

Read on »

From From the Belly of My Beauty by Esther Belin ©1999 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

| Website | Published works |

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  • Mihku Paul

    All fine poets. D.G. Okpik is a fellow Stonecoast alum. However, most of these poets named are from the west/southwest and there are many excellent Native writers on the other side of the country, so the list could be alot more balanced. There are many Native poets out there doing amazing work who simply haven’t been noticed or acknowledged.

  • Shimke

    Just started, with the first in the list (Belin?). Great poems. Wish there were more to access. Since I am in Paris until August, not much chance I can find any of her collections. Bravo.

  • Rico

    You forgot Henry Real Bird from MT read “River of Horses”

  • Alan Seeger

    Sammie Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is a fabulous poet. (Disclaimer: She is also my wife.)

  • janiss carron

    thanks sherman alexie-i understand for im in worse shape since i am mixed -but the poety doese help and by the way i saw that movie smoke signals – i really like it

  • Ptisawquah Ellinda

    3 online poems: (look for link @ left bottom)

  • Ptisawquah Ellinda

    poke around there — it’s her website :)

  • Cate

    Could you recommend a couple of good places to donate money to to best help folks living on a reservation?

  • nikki

    Thank you for your interview with Sherman Alexie. He has been a favorite poet of mine for many years. I was pleased to see him reading and speaking on your show. Bravo, Bill Moyers. You always get it right.

  • Charlie Huisken

    Whoops! Nothing from what is called Canada? Indigenous culture crosses boundaries. To start check out Muskrat, an online magazine, issues 1 2 and 3:
    I’m thinking of bill bissett (referred to in Jack Kerouac’s Paris Review interview), Daniel David Moses (wrote a poem about the hands of Anna Mae Squash whose severed hands were sent from South Dakota to Washington, D.C.), Richard Wagamese (better known as a novelist but begins his readings with the recitation of a poem), Marie Annharte Baker. The list goes on.
    And I’m looking for books by Layli LongSoldier (Oglala Lakota) who had a poem published in the Kenyon Review.

  • Charlie Huisken

    Anna Mae Aquash of course. Spellcheck can be stupid.

  • Mihku Paul

    Well, I imagine it would be difficult to compile such a list as the so-named “renaissance” of Indigenous literature is still going on. Version 2.0 has even been surpassed by Version 3.0, with Indigenous hip-hop artists and spoken word performers across the continent. What disappoints me with this list is that none of the “top ten” seem to be from east of the Mississippi. Come on, people. Just because the Northeast tribes have been hammered and diluted by 500 years of colonization does not mean we no longer exist! I am, quite frankly, sick and tired of encountering situations where the dominant notion is that the only “Indians” left are out West. People talk about balance in life, balance in the natural world. Well, how about some balance in perspective?