Natalie Diaz, Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Diaz weaves together Latina and Indigenous identity in poetry collection 

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.

Natalie Diaz, Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Natalie Diaz’s latest collection is a celebration of Latina and Indigenous identity. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

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.” 

Latina and Indigenous identity, Postcolonial Love Poem, Pulitzer Prize, Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem explores the nuances of what it means to be a Latina and Mojave Native woman in America today. (Image source: Gray Wolf Press)

“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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Portrait of Natalie Diaz in her studio in Phoenix, AZ on September 14, 2018. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

“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.

Latina writer

Young Latina writer receives literary flash-fiction award

Latina writer Victoria Arena, Editorial Assistant (internship) recently was awarded with the Carter Ross Flash Fiction Award at Montclair State University. The daughter of a dear friend, I’ve known Victoria since birth. Her stand out intelligence is surrounded by a gentle personality and a kind soul. I’m proud to see her blossoming into her passion of becoming a Latina writer. – Susana G Baumann

Latina writer

Victoria Arena, young Latina writer

Victoria Arena is a Latina writer and student at Montclair State University where she is majoring in English with a focus in Creative Writing. She is actively involved with the university’s literary magazine “The Normal Review” and will be the new fiction prose editor for this upcoming 2018-2019 school year. Writing, or really it should be said storytelling, is her passion. 

Latina writer

Victoria Arena receives her award from Montclair State University

“It’s more than just writing,” she says, “It’s the act of creating -building worlds and complex characters– that I truly love.” Recently, Victoria was honored by receiving the Carter Ross Flash Fiction Award from Montclair State University for her piece “The Unsolved Case of Jack McKinnon.”

Flash-fiction is a category of short fiction where a complete story is told in 1000 words or less. Victoria’s winning piece– a science fiction story about a boy that goes missing under mysterious circumstances– was just over 300 words. She celebrated this win with her mom and sister at the university’s English Department Awards Ceremony on May 9th.

“It was such an honor to have my work recognized in this way,” she says. “It’s my first official award and I’m just so proud and grateful to have achieved this.”

Her love for storytelling reaches far back to her childhood and Latina roots. “I’ve always loved hearing family stories from my mom about our family in Spain and Argentina. I also feel incredibly connected to my great-grandfather, Manuel, who was also a writer and who my mom has always spoken of with high praises.”

As a child, Victoria would make up elaborate stories with her friends during recess and play with her Barbie dolls like it was an ongoing television series–always picking up the story-line where she left off playing the day before.

One fun memory that she shares is when she was in third-grade and her class was having an event called Ellis Island Day. “We were learning about Ellis Island at the time and that day we all came dressed up like our ancestors and pretended to go through Ellis Island to learn about the process immigrants went through,” she explains. “I dressed up as my great-grandmother, Amalia, but I of course took it to the next level. I created a journal filled with stories of my fictional voyage to America. All my classmates were super impressed at the “book” I had written. It was my first major piece of writing.”

Latina writer

Victoria with proud mom Cristina receiving the award

From then on Victoria became known as “the writer” of her grade at her small Catholic school. She continued to write throughout her years in school before deciding that she wanted to pursue English and Writing in college.

“I feel like being a writer is a huge part of who I am. I spend so much time reading and writing– both for school and for fun– and it’s just what I love. But it definitely isn’t always easy.”

One of the biggest obstacles Victoria mentions is the dreaded “writer’s block.” Every writer has probably experienced it at some point– that moment when suddenly the mind goes as blank as the page in front of you and no words will come out. “I’ve definitely felt that,” says Victoria. She explains it as a “restless feeling of frustration where you just want to give up and scrap your whole story.”

Whenever this feeling strikes she takes it as a sign to step back from her writing and do some “recharging” activities such as reading, drawing, going out with friends, watching a movie, or simply taking a walk. “All of these things help get your head out of the writing zone and back into your life– which I find usually leads to inspiration for when you finally dive back into your writing.”

Latina writer

Victoria’s acceptance speech

Another great tip she shares is to find a writing group or buddy– someone that you can share your work with and who can cheer you on when you fall into a rut. “I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a great writing group for over a year now. We all help each other to stay on track with our writing goals and it’s great to just have other writers to talk to about our processes and challenges.”

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Despite the obstacles and the often solitary nature of the writing process, it is ultimately rewarding when the finished product is complete and can be read and shared with others. Her recent achievements have shown her how gratifying it is to have others read and appreciate all your hard work. 

To all aspiring writers, Victoria hopes that you continue pursue your passions and tell the stories that are in your heart. “Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ and don’t worry too much about the first draft. The first draft is never perfect! Just get that story on the page, and never stop believing in yourself! You are your own biggest fan.”