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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo)
(b. 1941)


Simon Ortiz was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After an elementary education in Indian schools, high school, and a stint in the Army, he enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he became aware of N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, and others among the first voices in Native American literature in the late ’60s. Although he was always interested in writing, under the pressures of contemporary experience Ortiz found his motive for writing changed from self-expression to the desire to “express a Native American nationalistic (some may call it a tribalistic) literary voice.”

Ortiz is a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, and his experiences in that community endowed him with several passionate concerns. From his father he learned to reverence the power and integrity of language. By choice, his poetry is fundamentally oral and frequently narrative, because he believes that one experiences life through poetry or, in the oral tradition, song, “Song as language,” he has written, “is a way of touching.” A second recurrent theme of Ortiz is that we establish our identity, individually and communally, in relation to a sense of place. For the most part, he argues, Anglo-Americans have been alienated from the land, a dislocation they try to valorize with an expansionist Frontier ideology. It is no wonder, then, that Ortiz is also deeply concerned with the political consequences of his writing. He grew up in the uranium mining area of northwest New Mexico, where laborers daily compromised their health and lives in the ruthless exploitation of the natural environment. Ortiz himself worked in such mines, and his identification with workers and the dehumanizing conditions under which they struggle, highlighted in his short story “To Change in a Good Way,” permeates his work. Arguments that literature ought to be above politics, be concerned only with beauty and universal significance, do not sway him. Such a position, he argues, is taken by those who want to obscure the political consequences of their own work, “who do not want to hear the truth spoken by those who defend the earth.”

Ortiz’s interest in the transformative power of compelling language, a historical sense of place, and the political dimensions of poetry are especially evident in his most recent work, a cycle of poems entitled from Sand Creek. Based on his experiences as a veteran recovering at a VA hospital, the poems offer a series of discrete, but tonally unified moments of reflection, which contemplate the present condition of the speaker and his nation in view of each’s past. Though the book is full of anger, grief, and pain, its dominant theme is compassion. “Love,” he writes, “should be answerable for.” Only by claiming responsibility for ourselves and our nation, present and past, can we create the possibility of hope.

Andrew O. Wiget
New Mexico State University


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
from Sand Creek (1981)

Other Works
Going for the Rain (1976)
A Good Journey (1977)
Howbah Indians (1978)
Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land (1980)
Earth Power Coming, ed. (1983)
Fightin': New and Selected Short Stories (1983)



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Links

Canyon de Chelly
(http://www.hanksville.org/voyage/poems/cdc/cdc1.html)
The text of Ortiz's poem.

Biography
(http://www.uta.edu/english/tim/poetry/so/ortizbio.htm)
A detailed biography and literary introduction to Ortiz.

Counter Balance Poetry: Simon Ortiz
(http://www.counterbalancepoetry.org/simonjortiz.htm)
Many primary texts including video and audio readings.

Native American Authors Project
(http://www.ipl.org/cgi/ref/native/browse.pl/A93)
Provides a comprehensive list of works by and about Ortiz (several of which are online).

Writing the Southwest Homepage
(http://www.unm.edu/~wrtgsw/ortiz.html)
Highlights thirteen American Southwest authors (including Ortiz) in a national radio documentary series.


Secondary Sources





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