NEA Literature Fellowships

So I started writing when I was a student
at the University of New Mexice and the writing was – really came. It was because there was a need to write. I had no plans to be a writer, especially
a poet. I was an active part of the, native rights
activity. The need arose in me to use words as a witness. It surprised me. It’s like the spirit of poetry came to me
and said Okay, youre coming with me. And I couldn’t say no. I got my first NEA fellowship in 1978. It was perfect timing. Because of that first fellowship, that first
National Endowment fellowship in 1978, I wrote She Had Some Horses which has become my signature. It’s the book that that put me into the world. What followed on that was In Mad Love and
War and other books. With all writers, with all artists, with all
humans, we all carry ancestors, we carry stories, we carry their songs. I think that’s what DNA, the DNA spiral really
is. A spiral carrying these songs and these poems
and these words and these images from our peoples. Like eagle that Sunday morning over Salt River
circled in blue sky, in wind, swept our hearts clean with sacred wings. We see you, see ourselves and know that we
must take the utmost care and kindness in all things. Breathe in, knowing we are made of all this
and breathe knowing we are truly blessed because we were born and die soon within a true circle
of motion like eagle rounding out the morning inside us. We pray that it will be done in beauty, in
beauty. Translators for a long time were sort of nonentities,
were sort of invisible people, not recognized or acknowledged. Since 1981 the NEA has been there saying literary
translation is important. It really matters. We care about it. During the Cold War the classic example is
that the entity that was most interested in the translation of Dr. Zhivago, which had
to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union it couldn’t be published there, was the CIA. And the CIA literally locked a pair of translators
in a hotel room, and said you can’t come out until you have an English Dr. Zhivago. Dr. Zhivago of course was critical of the
Soviet system so that was fabulous anti-Soviet propaganda for the CIA. My launch of my professional career as a literary
translator really happened when I was studying in Mexico on a Fulbright grant and I happened
to spend some time in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. It’s full of indigenous Maya culture, it’s
beautiful, it’s in the mountains, it’s misty, it’s mystical. I was entranced by it, and people there said
to me, if you’re interested in Chiapas, you have to read this novel by Rosario Castellanos,
called Oficio De Tinieblas. And I was so perplexed when I learned that
it had never been translated. So I started this Quixotic crusade to get
this book into English. Finally, after 4 years of intense effort,
2 things happened. Number one, I got a grant from the NEA. Which immediately, you know, I had imprimatur. I had support. And secondly, Sub-Commandante Marcos had an
indigenous revolution in Chiapas. And this novel is about an indigenous revolution
in Chiapas. So suddenly it was relevant. That really taught me that translation is
not inevitable. That if you don’t have somebody somewhere
who’s really, really trying hard against a lot of odds to make this book happen in English,
it’s not going to happen. I wanted to do a lot of things as I grew up. Writing became the only thing I cared deeply
about. The Literary Fellowships that are still being
given by the NEA are so important. We need to keep each generation of writers
alive in order to help produce the next generation of writers. A writer needs confidence. Just as I was beginning to lose hope, beginning
to lose faith, a major arts organization told me that I wasn’t just wasting my time. It really helped instill in me a level of
confidence that has lasted. I started writing a novel. And that novel was eventually published. It’s called At Home at the End of the World,
my first. And really it was that grant, that recognition
from the NEA that kind of propelled me. Thank you NEA.

One Reply to “NEA Literature Fellowships”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *