Friday, September 17, 2021


The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature
Edited by Esther G. Belin, Jeff Berglund, Connie A. Jacobs, and Anthony K. Webster
Cover Art by Shonto Begay
Foreword by Sherwin Bitsui, with Contributions by 
Jennifer Nez Denetdale and Michael Thompson
Published in 2021
Publisher: The University of Arizona Press
Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh)


In 2021, two terrific anthologies were published. First was When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (edited by Joy Harjo). Harjo's anthology has writers from many different nations. I recommend you get a copy of it. Second is The Diné Reader. I recommend you get a copy of it, too, because it gives you depth about one nation. 

Let's start with Shonto Begay's cover art. He is known in children's literature for two books he wrote and illustrated: Ma'ii and Cousin Horned Toad (1992), and Navajo Visions and Voices Across the Mesa (1995). The title of the art on the cover of The Diné Reader is "With Glowing Words." We see a Diné person, reading. In the interview of him on page 182, he said: 
"When I paint people reading, it's also beyond what the picture is, it keeps going on. It's an interpretation of an interpretation of a reader."
As I think about that, I wonder how high school students will interpret what they find in The Diné Reader. Who that reader is and what they've read will shape their interpretations of the poems and stories in the book. 

Sherwin Bitsui did the foreword for the book. Towards the end of the first paragraph, he says that non-Navajo and non-Native people tell him that they learned about Navajo culture through Tony Hillerman's books. Hillerman, you see, is not Native. What he provides is incorrect portrayals of Navajo people. In contrast, when Bitsui talks with young Navajo students who are in universities and learning about Navajo writers, he sees their excitement over stories and poems by Navajo writers that reflect their own experiences. The Diné Reader, he says, provides teachers with authors and resources they case use to bring greater depth and understanding to students who read work by Navajo writers. That depth and understanding is crucial because it can push aside the Hillermans of the book world.  

Are you one of the people who reads or recommends Hillerman? Stop doing that right now! If you're a teacher, your responsibility is to educate students. With Hillerman, you are miseducating them. Get a copy of The Diné Reader and start reading. Find a story or poem that resonates with you in some way, study the interview that precedes that writer's work, and then look in your library for additional materials from that author (start with the Bibliography in the final pages of the reader). If your library doesn't have something you want, ask for it!

And make sure to read Esther Belin's introduction to the history of Navajo literature, Jennifer Nez Denetdale's "Chronology of Important Dates in Diné Political and Literary History," and Michael Thompson's "Resources for Teachers and Readers." All three are excellent for what they provide to teachers who want to step away from the nonsense of Hillerman and do right by Navajo people. Thompson (he is Mvskoke Creek) organized his resources into sections, including one on humor that I like a lot. For each of his sections, he discusses it, follows with "considerations and reflective tasks" and ends with works in the reader that exemplify the idea the section is about. 

The Diné Reader can be used in high schools. As I page through my copy (or click through my e-book copy), I pause to read old favorites, smile at memories of hanging out with the poets, and of course, I read items new to me. As I read the introductory material about Tina Deschenie, I see that her first poem was published in 1973, when she was a high school student. In short, there's so much depth in the pages of this book! Order a copy and sit with it, soon!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm a librarian who follows your blog. It helps folks in our profession purchase these books if you include an ISBN (where available) as part of the bibliographic information you include. Thanks.