Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Natalie Diaz weaves together her Latina and Indigenous identity in a collection of tender, heart-wrenching and defiant poems that are an anthem against erasure of people like herself.
Her Pulitzer Prize winning collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, is described by Natalie herself as “a constellation.” Speaking to The Arizona Republic, Natalie continued, describing how like a constellation, her book is “able to pool a lot of different communities together. I, of course, have an Indigenous lens, but yet I think that Indigenous lens is extremely important to non-Indigenous peoples. We’re all fighting for our water. We’re all fighting for this Earth, for one another against injustice.”
Postcolonial Love Poem is a timely piece that explores various aspects of identity and life as a Latina and Indigenous woman in America today and what it means to love and be loved in an America troubled by conflict and racial injustice.
A defiant act against erasure
Born in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, Natalie now lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she is a professor at Arizona State University. She is also actively involved in the preservation of the Mojave language, working with the few remaining elder speakers of the language in an effort to revitalize the language and prevent its erasure.
Historically, Native and Indigenous cultures, histories, and languages have been erased, silenced, ignored, and rewritten. Natalie’s work aims to shine a light on that erasure and the violence inflicted on Native people. In Postcolonial Love Poem, every body carried in its pages demands to be seen and to “be touched and held as beloveds.”
“In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality,” her publisher describes.
Her poetry is a defiant act against the erasure of bodies like hers. She writes, “I am doing my best to not become a museum / of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out. // I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.”
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“I think one of the most rewarding things about poetry is poetry has this incredible capacity to hold what is at once painful and also what is joyful,” Natalie says. “It can hold tensions. It can let you not know things. It can let you question things. It can let you even have no language … to express the ways we feel or the ways we’re imagining things.”
Postcolonial Love Poem presents a complex and nuanced perspective on identity, joy, love, and grief while unraveling notions of American goodness, creating something more powerful than hope. A future is built and in these poems, Natalie chooses love.
Natalie Diaz is also the author of When My Brother Was an Aztec, winner of an American Book Award. She has received many honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a USA fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. She also holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University.