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2015 Common Reader

From Sand Creek
by Simon J. Ortiz

Exploring what it means to be a person on the border, Ortiz's volume of poetry uses the 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children at Sand Creek by the U.S. Army as the focal point for poems that pay homage to these innocent victims and also explores what it has meant to be on the margins. Ortiz writes that "I've been a writer and poet for over thirty-five years. One of the major voices in Indigenous American literature, I was among the first to be published as a contemporary Indigenous American writer of poetry and fiction beginning in the 1960s. My writing continues to address topics and issues of major concern regarding Indigenous American lands, communities, and cultures, including Indigenous decolonization and liberation. I've been involved with Indigenous educational endeavors . . . and in urban Indigenous communities. Along with my profession and career as a writer, poet, and storyteller, I've worked as a teacher and community-cultural worker, and I've been a tribal leader on two occasions as an Interpreter-Translator (1987-88) and First Lieutenant Governor (1988-89) [and] Presently, I am the incoming Managing Editor of RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Humanities."

A Reader's Take on From Sand Creek

by Robert Durborow
Student Advisor, 2014-2016
Pi Omega Chapter
Northern Kentucky University

Our 2015 Common Reader is by award-winning Native American poet and writer, Simon J. Ortiz, a native of Deetseyaamah, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. I can think of no more fitting work for our theme, "Borderlands and Enchantments."

From Sand Creek is a riveting collection of poems in which Ortiz, a featured speaker at the 2015 Convention, examines one of the most infamous episodes in American and Native American history—the 1864 massacre of 600 Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek, Colorado. Far from an angry rant or accusatory work, From Sand Creek offers a realistic view of the past and a hopeful, unified view for the future of all Americans, native or otherwise. Thomas McGrath (Letter to an Imaginary Friend) states, "In this work by Simon Ortiz, Sand Creek shines like a dark star over a continent of pain. . ." I can't say it any better.

As a poet and former soldier in the American armed forces, I found the collection particularly significant and poignant. Ortiz paints vivid pictures in the mind of the reader, in hues of crimson and hope. I literally could not put the book down, compelled to finish the journey started at the front cover. I have never read more thoughtfully composed, moving work. A single stanza typifies the power of the poet: "Memory/is stone, very quiet/like this,/a moment clenched/as knuckles/around gunstock/around steering wheel" (23). Ortiz writes iron. To say more would be to ruin the reader’s experience. Get the book (you'll thank me).

As we all begin preparations for the next academic year and the Sigma Tau Delta 2015 Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, why not start with a good, insightful, thought provoking read? From Sand Creek may be purchased from Better World Books for the small sum of $7.48.