Four Contemporary Native American Poets to Read Today

Sherman AlexieSherman Alexie

One of my personal favorite poets, Alexie is a joy to read both on the page and on Twitter, where he melds pop culture, his Spokane heritage, politics and calls for change, humor, and poetic thoughts. His poetry and short stories address the lives of modern Native Americans, emphasizing the realities that shape their lives: poverty, alcoholism, and a sense of powerlessness. His dark humor as well as his eloquent ability to follow it up with a beautiful turn or phrase is what has drawn me to his poetry time and time again.

He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, and is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member. He is the winner of numerous awards such as the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. He currently has 24 books of fiction and poetry published. I am thrilled to discover that he is the editor for the 2015 edition of “The Best American Poetry”—I’m sure his selections will be very interesting. Find out more about him at his website,

Online Reading List:Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World”, “Little Big Man”, “The Powwow at the End of the World”, and “Powwow Ghazal”.


Joy HarjoJoy Harjo

As dynamic and multitalented as Alexie, Harjo brings a unique blending of American cultures to the table in her poetry. Her influences include jazz music, feminism, and the arts, though perhaps her largest influence is her Muskogee Creek heritage. This blending of American culture results in her unique, beautiful poetic voice. Her writing incorporates Native American imagery and symbols in a way that emphasizes the importance of both remembering and rising above the past. Her use of long, lovely lines that contrast with her powerful, compact imagery are what attracted me to her poetry initially, and her ingenious musicality is what brings me back.

She was born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a member of the Muskogee Nation. She has written seven books of poetry, and won many awards in the process, such as the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. In addition to her writing career, she is also a successful musician and performs with her band, Poetic Justice. You can learn more about her at her website,

Online Reading List: She Had Some Horses”, “Deer Dancer”, “A Map to the Next World”, and “Grace”.


orlando whiteOrlando White

If you’re looking for poetry focused on language, White is your poet. His debut collection, Bone Light, is described by Kazim Ali as a “careful excavation on language and letters and the physical body”. His incredibly eclectic span of form characterizes his uniqueness, as he moves from prose poems into short, compacted poems naturally. His love of language and his ability to play with the images words conjure is a fascinating strength of his work.

He originally hails from Tólikan, Arizona. He is Diné of the Naaneesht’ézhi Tábaahí. He has been published in numerous journals such as The Kenyon Review and Ploughshares, and currently teaches at Diné College. Learn more about Orlando White at his website,

Online Reading List: “Unwritten”, “Quietus”, and “Empty Set”; and “Limn”, “Emit”, “Dissociate”, and “Sentential”.


leslie marmon silkoLeslie Marmon Silko

Silko’s poetry is focused on remembrance of the spirit of Native American tradition, storytelling, myth, and symbolism. By no means does she allow capturing the spirit of the past to root her there, though: her poetry spans time and blends modern Native American struggles and culture with that of the past. This balance places her poetry simultaneously looking forward and backward, and it preserves while also evolving the idea of Native American culture.

Born in 1948, she grew up on the edge of the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Her connection with the Laguna tribe is evident throughout her works. Some of her honors include a MacArthur Foundation Genius Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a Pushcart Prize for Poetry. You can learn more about her on the Poetry Foundation’s bio page by clicking here. The image of her collection, Storyteller, is via

Online Reading List:Lullaby”, “Ceremony”, and “Love Poem”.


Alexandria Petrassi

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