Tribute to Simon J. Ortiz
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Tribute to Simon J. Ortiz

I think I first encountered Simon Ortiz's writing in Duane Niatum's Harper's Anthology of Twentieth-Century Native American Poetry. (Many of us, I'm sure, benefited greatly from this anthology.) I was especially moved by "A Story of How a Wall Stands," a poem that makes vivid and palpable the sustaining interrelatedness of family, culture, land, and language. In the same anthology I found "The Creation, According to Coyote," and was amazed by its multilayered significances, complex tone, and linguistic agility. After this introduction I knew I would have to keep reading Ortiz, and I have. His work continues to challenge and enlighten me and to give me great pleasure.

I could say, simply, that my tribute to Simon Ortiz exists in my writings on his work and in the fact that I often include his poetry on my syllabi (thus I also know of his power to move students to new insights and recognitions). But I would like to be a bit more specific about just one of the many ways in which his work impresses: While he never stops advocating on behalf of native people's voices, rights, and history, and while he never suggests that the future will be easy, he bravely imagines that natives and others might find ways of living together constructively and creatively in this land whose history is so deeply, and often so differently, part of all of our lives. Examining the requirements and the implications of such a possibility is, I think, one of the struggles that makes After and Before the Lightning an important book. In this book he exposes historical and contemporary disasters of Manifest Destiny, but he also affirms the restorative potential [End Page 99] in the human spirit and in the natural world. He insists upon painful recognitions and hard work—especially for his non-Native readers—but he also tells us all that if we commit ourselves to this work we may hope that "The future will not be mad with loss and waste," that a new dream

wealthy with love and compassion and knowledge . . . will rise in . . . our America.

(From Sand Creek 86, 95)

For this, among many other things, we owe him thanks.

Robin Riley Fast

Robin Riley Fast, associate professor of writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College, studies and teaches nineteenth-century American literature, American poetry, women writers, and Native American literature. She has published articles on poetry, co-edited Approaches to Teaching Dickinson's Poetry, and is the author of The Heart as a Drum: Continuance and Resistance in American Indian Poetry.

Work Cited

Ortiz, Simon J. From Sand Creek. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2000. New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1981. [End Page 100]