A leading figure in the Native American literary renaissance that emerged in the 1960s, Simon J. Ortiz has published short fiction and non-fiction prose in addition to poetry. Whatever form his writing takes, though, it is concerned with modern man’s alienation from others, from himself, and from his environment—urging as a solution our meaningful re-connection with the wisdom of ancestral spirits and with our Mother Earth.
Ortiz, who is an Acoma Pueblo Indian, was born and raised near Albuquerque, New Mexico and grew up speaking the Acoma tongue. “This early language from birth to six years of age in the Acoma family and community,” he has written, “was the basis and source for all I would do later;” ironically, he was punished for speaking it at school. Nicknamed “the reporter” by his father for the absorbed attention he paid as a child to tribal elders’ stories, he has continued to base his creative work on his people’s powerful oral tradition.
After attending Fort Lewis College and the University of New Mexico, Ortiz earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the University of Iowa in 1969. During the 1960s he also served in the Army, where he suffered discrimination, and worked in a uranium mining industry whose profit-driven desecration of the land he would later movingly protest. In the early 1970s he began to write in earnest while teaching at various colleges, and in 1982 won a Pushcart Prize and a wide audience with From Sand Creek. Perhaps his most important book is 1992’s Woven Stone—a blend of the poetry and prose of three earlier volumes that is a spiritual autobiography.
Simple in its diction and rhythms, Ortiz’s poetry can express great reverence for beloved landscapes as well as intense rage against the de-humanizing forces of excessive development and mechanization. Apart from his own heritage, he has been influenced by Walt Whitman and the writers of the Beat movement, and he shares themes and stylistic features with fellow Native Americans Leslie Marmon Silko and N. Scott Momaday along with such environmentally engaged poets as Gary Snyder. The divorced father of three daughters, Ortiz currently teaches at the University of Toronto and lectures widely.
Going for the Rain (1976)
A Good Journey (1977)
From Sand Creek (1982)
Woven Stone (1992)
After and Before the Lightning (1994)
Men on the Moon (1999—collected short stories)
Simon J. Ortiz can be seen and heard reading his poems at www.counterbalancepoetry.org/simonjortiz.htm
Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People. PBS Home Video, 1992—based on his narrative, this includes recitations by Ortiz.
A Circle of Nations: Voices and Visions of American Indians. Berkeley, CA: Audio Literature, 1993. Part of the “Native America on Cassette” series, these two tapes include Ortiz reading.