Today is a big day in the literary world, with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes. And this year’s winners in poetry and fiction have strong connections to the Library of Congress—and to our poet laureate’s efforts to champion the voices of Native Americans.
Louise Erdrich, winner in fiction for her novel The Night Watchman, was the 2015 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction recipient. In the Fiction Prize announcement, then-Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote, “Throughout a remarkable string of virtuosic novels, Louise Erdrich has portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American novelist ever has, exploring—in intimate and fearless ways—the myriad cultural challenges that indigenous and mixed-race Americans face.” The Library has recently published a resource guide for Erdrich, highlighting her activities as our winner and other useful materials; it’s a great place to learn more about her and her incredible work.
This year’s prize in poetry was awarded to Natalie Diaz for her book Postcolonial Love Poem—and she, like Louise, has been featured at our National Book Festival. But, more importantly, she and Louise both are featured poets in Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words.” You can find them on the project’s StoryMap, listen to them reading and commenting on their poems in the American Folklife Center’s audio collection, and you can even buy the newly released companion anthology that features them. And speaking of poems, Natalie’s featured poem in the project is the title poem of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book!
Congratulations to both Louise and Natalie—we are thrilled for them both, and we hope this honor will bring many new readers not only to their work but also to the wealth of Native literature published in this country. As our laureate says in her “Living Nations, Living Words” StoryMap narrative, “You will not find [Native writers] fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.” We could not be prouder of the work Joy and the Library have done to change that reality. For such a change to happen, as Joy has stated, it’s important to “begin with the roots. In this country, the roots are found in the poetry of the more than 500 living indigenous nations.”
Thanks for giving me guidance on how to approach the task of appreciating literature more sensibly.