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Poetic genius

Poetic genius 

Above: Photo by Cybele Knowles

ASU poet Natalie Diaz grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village near Needles, California, where she experienced an “incredible culture and communal love” that informs her work, which earned her a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, informally known as the “genius grant.” “The way I see everything, the way I see all of my art, was formed there on the reservation, listening to my great-grandmother’s stories, hearing the language, talking with my elders …” Diaz says in a MacArthur Fellow video. In the video, she speaks of a second influence that informs her poetry: the physicality and athleticism of being a collegiate basketball player at Old Dominion University, where she played point guard. “Where we come from, we say language has an energy, and I feel that it is a very physical energy. I believe in that exchange, and to me it’s similar to what I did on a basketball court.” Her ability and talent earned Diaz the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU. Named for Maxine Besser Marshall and Jonathan Marshall, former newspaper publishers and Valley philanthropists, the endowment provides funds to support exceptional contemporary poets’ research, travel and teaching.

 Diaz, an associate professor in the Department of English, creates poetry that draws on her experiences as a Mojave American and a Latina woman to explore personal, cultural and political issues affecting indigenous Americans. The New York Times called her first collection, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” an “ambitious … beautiful work.”