Luci Tapahonso is a Navajo poet and a lecturer in Native American Studies. Born in 1953, she was raised on her family farm on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico with her eleven siblings. English was not her first language, but rather something she learned second to her native Navajo language, Dine. She learned English at home before starting school, which she attended in the area, graduating from high school in 1971.
Tapahonso was a a journalist and investigative reporter before beginning her studies at the University of New Mexico in 1976. She intended to study journalism there, but met faculty member, novelist and poet Leslie Marmon Silko, who convinced her to switch her major to creative writing. She went on to earn her MA in creative writing, and then to teach.
Silko helped Tapahonso publish her first story, “The Snake Man”, in 1978. Her first collection of poetry, put together when she was an undergraduate, was published in 1981. Several more collections followed, as well as individual poems published in various journals. Her 1993 collection Saánii Dahataal (the women are singing), written in Navajo and English, was the first collection to bring her acclaim and recognition, which continued with her 1997 blue horses rush in. Her book of poetry A Radiant Curve was awarded the Arizona Book Award for Poetry in 2009.
In 2013, Tapahonso was named the inaugural poet laureate of the Navajo Nation. Announcing the appointment at a press conference, Elmer Guy, president of Navajo Technical College, said that the goal of designating a chief poet is “to encourage other Navajo poets, writers, film makers and artists to realize how important their work is to the continuance and growth of Navajo contemporary culture. Luci represents the best of what it is to be Diné, honoring our traditions, while at the same time forming a contemporary voice that speaks beautifully to all people.”
Tapahonso continues to teach; has served on various boards, committees, and commissions; and is a sought after speaker. She received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and a Spirit of the Eagle Leadership Award for her key role in establishing the Indigenous Studies Graduate Studies Program at the University of Kansas. The Native Writers Circle of the Americas named Tapahonso the 1999 Storyteller of the Year. She has also received a Kansas Governor’s Art Award, and Distinguished Woman awards from the National Association of Women in Education and the Girl Scout Council of America.
Video: a 2013 interview with Luci Tapahonso