Friday, May 23, 2008

Interview: Veronica Tsinajinnie

In April, Veronica Tsinajinnie was awarded the 2008 Lacapa Spirit Prize for her story, Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn. According to its website, the Lacapa Spirit Prize is “a literary prize for children’s books about the peoples, cultures and landscapes of the Southwest.

Here’s a paragraph about the book, excerpted from the Lacapa Spirit Prize website:

Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn is a beautiful and peaceful story of the relationship the sun has to the earth and its inhabitants as he rises every morning and brings dawn. Veronica Tsinajinnie’s bilingual narrative is powerfully subtle in its presentation of Navajo culture. The story chronicles the journey of Jóhonaa’éí, the sun, as he passes over land, plants, animals, and humans, ushering in a new day. After Jóhonaa’éí wakes the field mice, the rabbits, and the sheep, he is “contented to know his job is done…” He finally arrives at a hogan door to wake “his children” who live inside. The sun then watches as the family offers “white corn to the morning spirits” and “give thanks to the bringer of dawn” before they begin their day also content to know that their job is done as well. Young readers will delight in Tsinajinnie’s progressive repetition, recognizing the daily path as one they, too, walk.

A few weeks ago, I had an e-conversation with Tsinajinnie about her book. Today, I share that conversation.


DR: Is Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn your first book?

VT: Yes. It is my very first “published” book. I was a student at Dine’ College from 2001-2004 and took a children’s literacy class. One of our projects was to write a children’s book. It was a Navajo adaption to the story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. My story was titled If You Give a Glissi Roasted Corn. Glissi is Navajo for goat. For this project, I actually drew the pictures to go with the story. So if, by chance, you decide to look it up online I must warn you that the pictures were drawn very badly and way before I began “seriously” practicing art/drawing. [Note from Debbie. The text is in Navajo. It is a multi-media project; you can listen to the book being read, in Navajo. Click here. Tsinajinnie's is one of many on the site.]

So technically, Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn is not my first book because I did have to have a binding, pictures, table of contents, etc. for If You Give a Glissi Roasted Corn. But it is my first professionally published book.

DR: What prompted you to write it?

VT: At the time I was an educational assistant with a Family Literacy Program, in the preschool classroom. I was constantly reading to the children there and as the number of my nieces and nephews grew I began to feel a feeling of guilt because very few of the books we would read to them (at work and at home) were about them and the things they knew. So……I began to write stories for them about them and about the things they know.

DR: What sorts of books did you read when you were a child? Do you remember one with particular fondness?

VT: I remember my favorite books being Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel. I’m not really sure why these were my favorite books but my father says that I would have him read them over and over again.

My all time favorite stories though were not in book form but orally told. I remember loving the summer times and winter breaks from school because that was when my family would stay with my grandparents. In the winter my grandfather would tell the coyote stories by firelight or around the lantern (they did not receive electricity until about 15 years ago). In the summer time they would tell us stories about when they were growing up; I was so fascinated. My grandfather was a great story teller because he loved to laugh. I have fond memories of him telling us a story and my grandmother getting a little bent because according to her, his story was completely untrue. An example of one would be the story my grandfather would tell about how he met my grandmother. The way he tells it he was riding his horse home from a one of his uncle’s house and he came upon a beautiful girl (my grandmother) as she herded sheep. He says she was so beautiful and he knew he wanted her to be his wife so he rode by her and picked her up from atop the horse and never took her home. This was one story my grandmother continues to deny happened. Regardless if it is true or not it is one of my favorite stories.

DR: Where were you born, and did you go to a public elementary school? Or a day school?

VT: I was born in the old hospital in Ft. Defiance AZ. (I really wish I had a cooler story like "in a hogan in the middle of winter" but I don’t.) From kindergarten until about second grade I went to Birdsprings Little Singer School. After that I went to Ganado for elementary, middle school, and high school. I always came back to Little Singer School for summer school though.

DR: Will you have another book out soon?

VT: I’d like to say that I’d have another book out soon although there is not one in the works right now. I have continued to submit more stories but sadly none have gone any further that that.

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