Ortiz, Simon J.

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ORTIZ, Simon J.

Nationality: American (American Indian: Acoma Pueblo). Born: Albuquerque, New Mexico, 27 May 1941. Education: Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado, 1962–63; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1966–68; University of Iowa, Iowa City (International Writing Fellow), 1968–69. Military Service: U.S. Army. Family: Married Marlene Foster in 1981 (divorced 1984); three children. Career: Public relations consultant, Rough Rock Demonstration School, Arizona, 1969–70, and National Indian Youth Council, Albuquerque, 1970–73; taught at San Diego State University, California, 1974, Institute of American Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1974, Navajo Community College, Tsaile, Arizona, summers 1975–77, College of Marin, Kentfield, California, 1976–79, University of New Mexico, 1979–81, Sinte Gleska College, Mission, South Dakota, 1985–86, and Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon, 1990. Editor, Quetzal, Chinle, Arizona, 1970–73. Since 1982 consulting editor, Pueblo of Acoma Press. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1969, 1982. Address: 308 Sesame S.W., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87105, U.S.A.



Naked in the Wind. Pembroke, North Carolina, Quetzal Vhio Press, 1970.

Going for the Rain. New York, Harper, 1976.

A Good Journey. Berkeley, California, Turtle Island Press, 1977.

Song, Poetry, Language. Tsaile, Arizona, Navajo Community College Press, 1978.

From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America. New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1981.

A Poem Is a Journey. Bourbanais, Illinois, Pternandon Press, 1981.

Short Stories Howbah Indians. Tucson, Blue Moon Press, 1978.

Fightin': New and Collected Stories. New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1983.

Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1999.


The People Shall Continue (for children). San Francisco, Children's Press, 1977.

Fightback: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Native American Studies, 1980.

Blue and Red (for children). Acoma, New Mexico, Pueblo of Acoma Press, 1982.

The Importance of Childhood. Acoma, New Mexico, Pueblo of Acoma Press, 1982.

The People Shall Continue. San Francisco, Children's Book Press, 1988.

Chaco Canyon: A Center and Its World, with others. Santa Fe, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1994.

Woven Stone. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1992.

After and Before the Lightning. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1994.

Editor, with Rudolfo A. Anaya, A Ceremony of Brotherhood 1680–1980. Albuquerque, Academia, 1981.

Editor, Earth Power Coming. Tsiale, Arizona, Navajo Community College Press, 1983.

Editor, These Hearts, These Poems. Acoma, New Mexico, Pueblo of Acoma Press, 1984.

Editor, Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1998.


Critical Studies: By Willard Gingerich, in Fiction International (San Diego, California), 1983; "Common Walls: The Poetry of Simon Ortiz" by Kenneth Lincoln, in The Colphin 9 (Aarhus, Denmark), 1984; "The Ethnic Imagination: A Case History" by Dennis Hoilman, in Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 5(2), 1985; Simon Ortiz by Andrew Wiget, Boise, Boise State University, 1986; "Simon Ortiz: The Poet and His Landscape" by William Oandasan, in Studies in American Indian Literatures (Richmond, Virginia), 11, 1987; "Luci Tapahonso and Simon Ortiz: Allegory, Symbol, Language, Poetry" by Dean Rader, in Southwestern American Literature, 22(2), spring 1997; interview with Mary Lindroth and Kathleen Anderson, in Speaking of the Short Story: Interviews with Contemporary Writers, edited by Farhat Iftekharuddin and others, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1997; by Marie-Madeleine Schein, in Updating the Literary West, Fort Worth, Texas, Western Literature Association, 1997; "Toward an Ecology of Justice: Transformative Ecological Theory and Practice" by Joni Adamson Clarke, in Reading the Earth: New Directions in the Study of Literature and Environment, edited by Michael P. Branch and others, Moscow, University of Idaho Press, 1998.

Simon J. Ortiz comments:

My writing, mostly using the tradition of Native American oral narrative, is a stand within the storm that is America. The wind will change; there will be calm.

*  *  *

The poetry of Simon J. Ortiz is a powerful and moving record of a Native American who is an alien in his own land. In "A Designated National Park," he writes, "This morning, / I have to buy a permit to get back home." The preface to A Good Journey, the most important collection of his work, is an excerpt from an interview. Ortiz is asked, "Why do you write? Whom do you write for?" He replies, "Because Indians always tell a story. The only way to continue is to tell a story and that's what Coyote says … Your children will not survive unless you tell something about them—how they were born, how they came to this certain place, how they continue."

In "Notes for My Child" Ortiz tells his daughter how she was born, and in the context of his other work—in which his native tradition asserts itself most tellingly in the ritualization of significant events—it is a bemused but good-humored account of an encounter with the impersonality of a hospital. Many of his poems also are about coming to certain places. His sense of place is always precise, and even when he is in relatively unfamiliar territory, he is able to locate himself in human geography. Above all, however, his are poems of continuance. Ortiz has a confidence that things will go on, a confidence that no Euro-American, I expect, has ever been able to feel, and this assurance informs all of his work.

The fundamental strata of A Good Journey are storytelling and prayer. Even in the poems that deal with the confusion, ugliness, and impersonality of modern American life—"Burning River," for example—the memory of the timeless rituals serves as an orientation. In some ways, of course, the original sources are as lost to him as they are to other Americans. "The prayers of my native selfhood," he writes, "have been strangled in my throat." Some of the more self-consciously traditional poems, such as "Telling about Coyote," in which Coyote is "the existential man, Dostoevsky Coyote," suffer from the paradox inherent in any attempt to restore a lost tradition. It is, of course, the lack of self-consciousness that makes the tradition most attractive. In poems like "Earth and Rain, The Plants and Sun," "Canyon de Chelly," "Apache Love," "Vision Shadows," and "When It Was Taking Place," Ortiz gives us some of the most complete articulations to be found in English of the consciousness that swells in proximity with the eternity that ritual makes manifest.

Ortiz should not be read as a specimen Native American or as an anthropological curiosity. He is, above all, an American poet and a very good one. Neither his loss of orientation in the Los Angeles airport nor his obvious enthusiasm for the variety and drama of American geography is uniquely Native American. Lines such as these might be envied by any poet: "And the immensity of the place / settles upon me without weight. / I knew that we were near / one of the certain places / that is the center of the center."

—Don Byrd

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