Poet and ASU professor named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow

Natalie Diaz is one of 25 recipients of the prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant

ASU’s own Natalie Diaz, whose accomplishments in the literary community have earned national recognition, was recently honored as a 2018 MacArthur Fellow.

Diaz, a renowned poet and associate professor in the ASU Department of English, was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship this month. The grant is a $625,000 stipend awarded to nominated creative and intellectual professionals that aims to encourage those with exceptional talent to continue to benefit their community, according to its website. 

Diaz said she was drawn to ASU because she felt it was a place where she could engage with and make an impact on the community. 

“I believe in conversation, I believe that’s how we innovate is by talking and wondering together,” Diaz said. “When I leave a conference with my students, I’m always more curious myself because of what they were curious about.”

Diaz said the grant does not go into effect until next year, so she's still in the process of formally planning what she wants to accomplish with the award. 

She said her most recent project is founding the archiTEXTS program, which is designed to encourage conversations and collaborations between professional and student authors in the literary community through speaker events. 

Her first collection of poems “When My Brother Was an Aztec” was published in 2012 by Copper Canyon Press and will be featured as the April 2019 reading selection for the ASU Book Group.

She said the goal of the program is to bring together artists with different voices and create conversations that are allowed to be filled with tension. 

“I think that’s one of the most important things about intersectionality is that we don’t have to agree, and we also don’t have to pretend we understand where the other person has come from," Diaz said. "But we can simply know that where we’re headed is a place where we can at least be parallel.”  

Diaz said it is important to her that her students not feel restricted within the classroom and are able to express all parts of their identity.

“Even the fact that I was an athlete I feel is important to my students (so) they can feel like they can be all the things that they are in a classroom at one time,” Diaz said. “They don’t have to shut anything off. You can be an athlete. You can be queer. You can just be all the different things that you are.”

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Diaz said her work to preserve and revitalize the Mojave language is very important to her, and speaking and studying indigenous languages has helped her to understand English better.  

Angela Gonzales, associate professor in the School of Social Transformation whose research involves developmental sociology and American Indian studies, said she loves Diaz’s poetry because it is a realistic and thoughtful representation of reservation life. 

“It’s raw, it’s real, but it’s also very passionate and respectful,” Gonzales said. “I think she’s a brilliant poet.”

Gonzales said she is deserving of the MacArthur Fellowship because of the importance that her work has for indigenous people. 

“I applaud the MacArthur (Foundation) for thinking and looking broadly beyond what many people might think of as traditional disciplines, or people whose work has an impact,” Gonzales said. 

Henry Quintero, assistant professor in the Department of English and editor of the RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts and Humanities, said he has worked with Diaz for many years. He knows many people around the U.S. and Canada who have been personally affected by her work. 

Quintero said part of Diaz’s genius, which he said he has experienced firsthand, is her understanding of what it means to be part of the indigenous community and her representation of indigeneity and Latinx culture. 

“That’s really Natalie’s brilliance within writing too, is erasing that imaginary dotted line through how she encounters language and poetics through Mojave language… (and) through these contemporary sensibilities of how we look at natives,” he said. 

Quintero said there are very few people that represent the “voice of change” that Diaz produces. 

“Natalie was awarded the MacArthur award because she is approaching these problems through her passion for life with a grounded foundation and indigeneity, and through that I believe Natalie's creativity has the capability of solving or adding to the solution of some of our most profound problems that humanity faces,” Quintero said. 

Reach the reporter at chofmann@asu.edu and follow @chofmann528 on Twitter.  

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