Laura Tohe (Diné, Tsénahabiłnii, Sleepy Rock People clan, and born for the Tódich’inii, Bitter Water clan) will receive the Tulsa Library Trust’s “Festival of Words Writers Award” March 2, 10:30 a.m., at Hardesty Regional Library’s Connor’s Cove, 8316 E. 93rd St. Her award presentation will be followed by a book signing and a day of educational American Indian family events from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
The award, presented every other year, consists of a $5,000 honorarium and an engraved crystal. Previous winners include: 2001, Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek); 2003, Vine DeLoria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux); 2005, Leslie Marmon-Silko (Laguna Pueblo); 2007, Carter Revard (Osage); 2011, LeAnne Howe (Choctaw); 2013, Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek); 2015, Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki); and 2017, Tim Tingle (Choctaw).
Tohe has written the books Code Talker Stories, Making Friends with Water, No Parole Today, and Tseyi’: Deep in the Rock, Reflections on Canyon de Chelly. She co-edited the poetry anthology Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community.
In 2015 she was honored as the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate for 2015-2019, a title given to her in celebration and recognition of her work as a poet and writer.
As a librettist, Tohe was commissioned by The Phoenix Symphony to write the libretto for Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio, premiering in 2008 as part of the symphony’s 60th anniversary. Her current project is a libretto on healing, Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World, with performances scheduled for spring 2019 in France.
Tohe is Professor Emerita with Exemplar Distinction from Arizona State University and had faculty affiliations with American Indian Studies, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and Honors College. She also is an Arizona Speaks presenter for the Arizona Humanities that awarded her the 2006 Dan Schilling Public Scholar award.
Tohe explains why writing and storytelling came naturally to her:
“I was raised by my extended family on the Navajo homeland among storytellers who influenced my early writings. My mother used to tell my brothers and me stories in the car on the way “to town” to get supplies. My first short story publication came from her stories about a brother and sister who were transformed into prairie dogs. It stayed with me for many years and then one day my assignment was to begin a story with “once upon a time” and that story came out. After being away at school, I always visited my grandmother first, who after clearing away the breakfast dishes and while the coffee was still hot, caught me up on all our family goings on. She was the “National Enquirer” magazine of our family telling interesting stories, some joyous and some not so savory from the past and present. I didn’t grow up watching television, but my family’s stories entertained and brought us together at the kitchen table and when we worked on the in-progress jigsaw puzzle under the dining room tablecloth. Such were some of the early influences in my desire to become a writer at 12 years old and for which I am deeply grateful.”
Sponsors for the American Indian Festival of Words include the Tulsa Library Trust, Tulsa City-County Library’s American Indian Resource Center, The Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, Dr. Frank and Mary Shaw, Friends of the Helmerich Library, Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs, and Tulsa Indian Community Foundation.
For more information on library programming, call the AskUs Hotline, 918-549-7323, or visit the library’s website, www.tulsalibrary.org.
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