Ortiz, Simon J. 1941- (Simon Ortiz, Simon Joseph Ortiz)
Ortiz, Simon J. 1941- (Simon Ortiz, Simon Joseph Ortiz)
Born May 27, 1941, in Albuquerque, NM; son of Joe L. and Mamie T. (a potter) Ortiz; children: Raho Nez, Rainy Dawn, Sara Marie. Ethnicity: "Native American (Acoma Pueblo)." Education: Attended Fort Lewis College, 1961-62; attended University of New Mexico, c. 1968. Politics: Independent. Religion: "Native American (Acoma Pueblo) beliefs."
Rough Rock Demonstration School, Rough Rock, AZ, public relations worker, 1969-70; National Indian Youth Council, Albuquerque, NM, newspaper editor, 1970-73; San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, instructor, 1974; Institute of American Arts, Santa Fe, NM, instructor, 1974; Navajo Community College, Tsaile, AZ, instructor, 1975-77; College of Marin, Kentfield, CA, instructor, 1976-79; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, instructor, 1979-81; Sinte Gleska College, Mission, SD, instructor, 1985-86; Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR, instructor, 1990; University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, professor, 2001-06; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, professor of English, 2007—. Navajo Community College Press, consulting editor, 1982-83; Pueblo of Acoma Press, consulting editor, beginning 1982. Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland, arts coordinator, 1990. Military service: U.S. Army, 1963-66.
National Endowment for the Arts, Discovery Award, 1969, fellowship, 1981; honored poet in the White House Salute to Poetry and American Poets, 1980; humanitarian award for literary achievement, New Mexico Humanities Council, 1989; Returning the Gift award, 1993; Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writer's award, 1997-99; honorary D.Lett., University of New Mexico, 2002; named lieutenant governor, Acoma Pueblo; fellow, International Writing Program, University of Iowa.
Naked in the Wind (poetry), Quetzal-Vihio Press (Pembroke, NC), 1971.
Going for the Rain (poetry), Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
A Good Journey (poetry), Turtle Island Press (Berkeley, CA), 1977.
The People Shall Continue (juvenile), illustrated by Sharol Graves, Children's Book Press (San Francisco, CA), 1977, revised edition, 1988.
Howbah Indians (short stories), Blue Moon (Tucson, AZ), 1978.
Song, Poetry, Language (essay), Navajo Community College Press (Tsaile, AZ), 1978.
(With Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz) Traditional and Hard-to-Find Information Required by Members of American Indian Communities: What to Collect, How to Collect It, and Appropriate Format and Use, Office of Library and Information Services, 1978.
Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land (poetry and prose), Institute for Native American Development, University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM), 1980.
From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America (poetry), Thunder's Mouth (New York, NY), 1981, reprinted as From Sand Creek, 1999.
A Poem Is a Journey, Pternandon Press (Bourbanais, IL), 1981.
Blue and Red (juvenile), Pueblo of Acoma Press (Acoma, NM), 1982.
The Importance of Childhood, Pueblo of Acoma Press (Acoma, NM), 1982.
Fightin': New and Collected Short Stories, Thunder's Mouth (Chicago, IL), 1983.
Woven Stone: A 3-in-1 Volume of Poetry and Prose (contains Going for the Rain, A Good Journey, and Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land), University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1991.
After and before the Lightning, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1994.
(With John R. Stein and Mary Peck) Chaco Canyon: A Center and Its World, Museum of New Mexico Press (Santa Fe, NM), 1994.
Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1999.
Out There Somewhere (poetry), University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2002.
The Good Rainbow Road (Native American tale in Keres and English, with Spanish translation by Victor Montejo), illustrated by Michael Lacapa, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2004.
Contributor to anthologies, including I Tell You Now, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1988; Winged Words, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1990; Coyote Was Here, University of Århus (Århus, Denmark); and This Song Remembers; work also represented in high school and college textbooks. Contributor of poetry to Shantih.
(Coeditor) Calafia: The California Poetry, Yardbird Wing (Berkeley, CA), 1978.
(With Rudolfo A. Anaya) A Ceremony of Brotherhood, La Academia Publications (Albuquerque, NM), 1980.
Earth Power Coming: Short Fiction in Native American Literature (anthology of Native American short fiction), Navajo Community College Press (Tsaile, AZ), 1983.
These Hearts, These Poems, Pueblo of Acoma Press (Acoma, NM), 1984.
Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1998.
Beyond the Reach of Time and Change: Native American Reflections on the Frank A. Rinehart Photograph Collection, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2004.
Simon J. Ortiz is regarded as one of the finest Native American poets and short story writers at work today. In his books, Ortiz uses straightforward and fluid language reminiscent of the Indian oral tradition to depict Native American life—the struggles, sufferings, triumphs, and pains of everyday existence—and thus reflect on the universal human experience. Critics have noted that his writings are informed by an optimistic hope for the rebirth and ultimate survival of both man and nature.
According to Bert Almon in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Ortiz "is aware of a tenacious traditional culture which uses language as song, which views all conduct through a mythology that still grows in response to modern conditions. But he is also aware that modern conditions have broken that traditional world through poverty, prejudice and an education that denies its values. His knowledge of both worlds gives his work its complexity and lets him steer between a sentimental view of tradition and simple-minded social protest. He has stories to tell, and he tells them as skillfully in verse as prose."
Ortiz was born and raised primarily in the Acoma Pueblo homeland, where from an early age he engaged himself with language, story, and tradition. In a 1987 interview published in Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indians, he emphasized his gratitude for having been immersed in his roots: "I can't really see any value in not knowing a place. You have to have it. Otherwise you are drifting. You remain at loose ends and you're always searching without ever knowing where you are or what you're coming to. I guess the background, the heritage of Native American people at least offers this opportunity to have a place."
His background also offered Ortiz an opportunity to experience alienation and isolation in mainstream American culture. He had to learn English in grade school (his native tongue was Acoma), then had to spend his middle and high school years in boarding schools far from home. Although he was an excellent student who loved to read and planned to become a writer, Ortiz was also aware of a personal political agenda that he felt he must pursue. In a piece for I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, Ortiz commented that, among himself and his Indian friends, "there was an unspoken vow: we were caught in a system inexorably, and we had to learn that system well in order to fight back. Without the motive of a fight-back we would not be able to survive as the people our heritage had lovingly bequeathed us." Significantly, one of the poet's best known works is Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land.
In the same essay, Ortiz went on to say that he became a writer because he "sincerely felt a need to say things, to speak, to release the energy of the impulse to help my people." While remaining aware that he was writing for white readers as well as Indians, he still kept the lessons of the Acoma Pueblo paramount in his heart and his art. "When I turned my attention to my own heritage, I did so because this was my identity, the substance of who I was, and I wanted to write about what that meant," he stated in his autobiographical essay. "My desire was to write about the integrity and dignity of an Indian identity, and at the same time I wanted to look at what this was within the context of an America that had too often denied its Indian heritage. To a great extent my writing has a natural political-cultural bent simply because I was nurtured intellectually and emotionally within an atmosphere of Indian resistance."
Ortiz published his first major collection of poetry, Going for the Rain, in 1976. The poems in this work share a cyclical structure—moving from birth, to a departure from one's origins, to a rebirth—and are reminiscent of a Pueblo rain song. Ortiz explained this similarity in a prologue to the collection, as cited by Willard Gingerich in Southwest Review: "A man makes his prayers; he sings his songs. He considers all that is important to him, his home, children, his language, and self that he is…. A man leaves; he encounters all manner of things…. His traveling is a prayer as well, and he must keep on. A man returns, and even the returning has moments of despair and tragedy. But there is beauty and there is joy."
Ortiz begins Going for the Rain by reciting the creation myth of the Acoma people, then summons the mythological Coyote, who appears throughout the collection in a number of roles—as Western rascal, wise Acoma grandfather, and Coyote Lady. The poet then alights in present-day America in "Albuquerque Back Again, 12/6/74," in which he describes how he touches the mountains for sustenance before facing "the traffic / and ordinary insanity / of people going places / they might not actually know / the destinations of." Ortiz becomes tangled in this muddled environment and realizes that humanity has fallen because man has forgotten his origins. In "Fragment" and "The Poems I Have Lost," Ortiz draws a parallel between the fragments of man's broken spirit and the old bones of Indian lore. Man can rebuild his splintered self by remembering and retelling these old stories, which contain the keys to understanding the world. One must return to his origins in order to survive, for as Ortiz writes: "Neon is weak. / Concrete will soon return / to desert." Critics praised Going for the Rain for its unaffected and meaningful verse. The collection is "a work of both artistic and political inevitability and innocence," Gingerich wrote in Southwest Review, "not folkloric innocence, but clairvoyant sophistication that sees the continual rebirth of spirit in all materialism."
In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Marie M. Schein observed that the poems in Going for the Rain reveal "the essential values that constitute the foundation of Ortiz's poetry; the belief in transmitting the gift of culture to the children, the importance of language and words, the respect for nature and for elders, and the harmony of the botanic, animal, and human worlds."
Following closely on the success of his first volume, Ortiz published A Good Journey, a poetry collection that focuses on the past and present Acoma way of life. These poems frequently tell stories of ordinary occurrences—such as excursions into large cities, the growth of children, the birth of a daughter, the cooking of stew—and exemplify Ortiz's conviction that Indian experiences are common to all people. "Ortiz believes that the [events] he captures in his poems … have to do with the true nature of all of us," acknowledged Robert L. Berner in World Literature Today. A Good Journey also reveals the poet's compassion for all of creation, as evidenced in "For Our Brothers: Blue Jay, Gold Finch, Flicker, Squirrel," a collection of elegies written for the numerous defenseless animals that have been killed by motorists. A Good Journey received favorable reviews from critics. Schein deemed the work "a celebration of life … the endurance of a people and a culture and the struggle to protect the land. Ortiz's words stress the necessity for the present generation to ensure the continuance of the native people and their survival, while a dominant culture closes in on them."
Fight Back, Ortiz's 1980 poetry and prose collection, revolves around the Pueblos, Navahos, and whites of New Mexico's "Uranium Belt." Marking the 300th anniversary of the successful Pueblo revolt against the Spanish, the poems in Fight Back depict the everyday joys and sorrows of the mining people and express Ortiz's theme of interlaced destinies: America cannot ignore the Indian, for the fate of the Indian—his subjugation, exploitation, and confinement—will inevitably become the fate of all people. "No More Sacrifices," the most celebrated piece in the work, conveys this belief, as quoted in fiction international: "If the survival and quality of the life of Indian peoples is not assured, then no one else's life is, because those same economic, social, and political forces which destroy them will surely destroy others."
From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America is a collection set in a Colorado veterans hospital in which the poet was once a patient. A Vietnam-era veteran, Ortiz parallels the 1864 massacre of 133 Indian women and children at Sand Creek with the Vietnam war and its massacres. The poems in this volume contain stories of broken spirits, young and old, providing universal insight into the alienation of human beings from their native soil. However, in one of the poems in From Sand Creek, Ortiz articulates his unceasing hope for a productive and harmonious relationship between man and man and between man and the land, as cited by Harold Jaffe in the Nation: "The future will not be mad with loss and waste though / the memory will be there; eyes will become kind / and deep, and the bones of this nation will mend." Jaffe commented that "the cumulative impression [of this collection] is, admirably, not of gloom and despair, but of a renewed faith in the prospect of relationship with the land and solidarity among the dispossessed."
Ortiz's stories are collected in Howbah Indians and Fightin'. The works in Howbah Indians impart profound lessons from everyday experiences. In one story a young widow leaves her hometown to find work and in another a family tries to cope with the father's crippling war injury. The stories in Fightin' revolve around the theme of survival and express Ortiz's belief in the intercon- nectedness between the Indian and the entire American nation. "To Change in a Good Way," the most critically acclaimed work in the collection, concerns "the passage of non-Indian characters across that brief yet vast and persistent mythic gap in American history between Indian and non-Indian," explained Gingerich in fiction international. "To Change in a Good Way" revolves around the bond between a Laguna Indian couple and an uprooted Oklahoma couple. When Bill, the migrant father, learns that his younger brother has been killed in Vietnam, he receives strength from the ancient Indian knowledge of his fellow mining friends Pete and Mary, who offer him corn, medicine, and prayer sticks, according to ritual. Although Bill is at first unsure of what to do, he decides to place the husk in an empty mine shaft. Then he speaks to his dead sibling, as cited in fiction international: "I got this here Indian thing, feathers and sticks … and Pete and Mary said to do this because it's important even if we're Okies and not Indians who do this…. Pete said he didn't know exactly all the right Indian things to do anymore but somehow I believe they're more righter than we've ever been led to believe. And now I'm trying too."
Ortiz's Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories contains "To Change in a Good Way" and other tales that Scott Blackwood described as "about all of us, the struggles we endure to maintain connection to our communities and ourselves." Blackwood, writing in the Austin Chronicle, noted that in Ortiz's stories, characters who are left emotionally wanting often fill the void with self-destructive behavior, including violence and alcohol abuse. Other pieces explore the ongoing cultural conflict between the races; in the title story, a young boy is on hand when his Acoma grandfather is given his first television set; the two of them witness history in watching an Apollo moon landing. The old man wonders why the "American scientist men" would fly all the way to the moon looking for knowledge, just to bring back rocks. In the best stories of Men on the Moon, Blackwood concluded, Ortiz presents a "shared vision"; reading these pieces, he said, "we experience characters' interior spaces that still resonate, however faintly, with the sounds of this shared life." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "the language of these rich narratives reflect both Ortiz's poetic gifts and his intimate knowledge of oral storytelling."
In 1991 Ortiz published two more poetry collections, Woven Stone and After and before the Lightning. Woven Stone collects the author's poetry from his out-of-print titles, and After and before the Lightning consists of journal entries in prose and poetry that were composed while Ortiz spent a winter as a visiting professor at Sinte Gleska College on the Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. These two volumes augment Ortiz's role as spokesperson for all Native American people, for Ortiz "knows the spiritual geography and the secret histories of power, struggle, exploitation, deceit, promise and survival which cycles of conquest and desert have taught the peoples of this region," Gingerich claimed in fiction international. However, Ortiz's works extend further than the peoples of his own region. "I … [write] for the words that are sacred because they come from a community of people and all life," Ortiz said, as quoted in the New York Times Book Review. And his concern is not only for his homeland and its vitality, but for all, as cited in Southwest Review: "What I want is a full life / for my son, / for myself, / for my Mother, / the Earth."
In his World Literature Today review of After and before the Lightning, Robert L. Berner noted of the poems in particular: "They work in the context of the steady profession of the season they chronicle, and most of them in fact can stand by themselves and indeed are very strong." The critic concluded that After and before the Lightning "must be considered [Ortiz's] most powerful achievement to date, a major event in the current movement of American Indian poetry, and in fact a significant contribution to our literature in general."
Out There Somewhere is a poetry collection that combines Native American history, personal reflection, and social commentary in verses that express a longing for justice and recognition for Native people. In the book's first sections, the poems center on institutions—ranging from writers' colonies to detox centers—that have meaning for Ortiz. One entry, "Headlands Journal," describes the plight of Indians in prison. In the section titled "What Indians?," the poet uses dark humor to express his frustration over the majority culture's dismissal of Native language and tradition. And, characteristic of the poet, several pieces touch on the land and the vitality of the natural world. The diversity of subject matter led a Publishers Weekly contributor to comment that if Ortiz "moves too easily from the sunset … to a series of questions about cultural appropriation, this book still asks crucial questions as much as it argues for beauty." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman cited Out There Somewhere for its poems that express Ortiz's despair and hope; these are verses, she said, that are "permeated by gentleness and in which silence is every bit as eloquent as words."
In addition to his poetry and prose work for adults, Ortiz has written stories for children and other works for Native American cultural enrichment. "Understanding the values of one's community and its relationship to the land is a central theme in Ortiz's writing," commented Janice Gould in an essay for Reference Guide to American Literature. "But full understanding of these values is available only through their articulation in language. Language, for Ortiz, is the heart and soul of existence."
In I Tell You Now, Ortiz himself concluded: "It has been only a little more than twenty years since Indian writers began to write and publish extensively, but we are writing and publishing more and more; we can only go forward. We come from an ageless, continuing oral tradition that informs us of our values, concepts, and notions as native people, and it is amazing how much of this tradition is ingrained so deeply in our contemporary writing, considering the brutal efforts of cultural repression that was not long ago outright U.S. policy…. In spite of the fact that there is to some extent the same repression today, we persist and insist in living, believing, hoping, loving, speaking, and writing as Indians."
Ortiz once told CA: "As a writer, I've tried to consider most importantly my life as a Native American who is absolutely related to the land and all that that means culturally, politically, personally. Nothing is separate from me in that sense, and I am included with the earth and all its aspects and details."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Allen, Paula Gunn, editor, Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs, Modern Language Association of America (New York, NY), 1983.
Bruchac, Joseph, Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1987, pp. 211-29.
Coltelli, Laura, Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1990, pp. 103-119.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 45, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 824-825.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992, pp. 231-234.
Lincoln, Kenneth, Native American Renaissance, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1983, pp. 183-221.
Poetry Criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Works of the Most Significant and Widely Studied Poets of World Literature, Volume 17, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 221-246.
Reference Guide to American Literature, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000, pp. 662-664.
Swann, Brian and Arnold Krupat, editors, I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1987, pp. 185-194.
Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991, pp. 509-510.
Wiget, Andrew, Simon Ortiz, Boise State University Press (Boise, ID), 1986.
Bloomsbury Review, July, 1999, review of Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing, p. 8.
Booklist, November 15, 1992, Raul Nino, review of Woven Stone, p. 575; August, 1999, review of Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, p. 2028; March 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Out There Somewhere, p. 120.
Canadian Literature, winter, 2000, review of Speaking for the Generations, p. 139.
fiction international, 1983, Willard Gingerich, review of Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land.
Hungry Mind Review, winter, 1994-95, review of After and before the Lightning, pp. 56-57.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1999, review of Men on the Moon, p. 1258.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 2001, review of Men on the Moon, p. 6.
Library Journal, December, 1992, Francis Poole, review of Woven Stone, p. 144; July, 1999, review of Men on the Moon, p. 139.
Nation, April 3, 1982, Harold Jaffe, review of From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America.
New York Times Book Review, April 29, 1984, Diana Cole, review of Fightin': New and Collected Stories, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1999, review of Men on the Moon, p. 345; March 18, 2002, review of Out There Somewhere, p. 94.
School Library Journal, April, 1989, Donna Fisher, review of The People Will Continue, p. 115.
Southwest Review, winter, 1979, Willard Gingerich, review of Going for the Rain, pp. 19-30.
Western American Literature, summer, 1993, review of Woven Stone, pp. 162-63.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1984, review of Fightin', p. 647; summer, 1985, Robert L. Berner, review of A Good Journey, p. 474; spring, 1995, Robert L. Berner, review of After and before the Lightning, p. 409.
Austin Chronicle,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (October 1, 1999), Scott Blackwood, review of Men on the Moon.
Native American Authors Project,http://www.ipl.org/ (June 14, 2002).