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Mojave Poet, Activist Natalie Diaz to Open Women Writers Conference

(June 2, 2016) — Award-winning Native American poet Natalie Diazwill open the 2016 Kentucky Women Writers Conference, running Sept. 16-17, in Lexington. Diaz's work will also be among the topics of a free poetry workshop presented June 11, at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.



Poet Natalie Diaz reads from her first poetry collection "When My Brother Was an Aztec."

Natalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, "When My Brother Was an Aztec," was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012. The work blends questions of identity and belonging against the background of Diaz’s reservation upbringing. Her work has also appeared in Narrative magazine, Gwarlingo, The Rumpus and Ploughshares.

“Natalie’s first book in 2012 established her as a daring new voice in contemporary poetry, and now enough time has passed since her career as a pro basketball player in Europe for the basketball poems to start coming to her,” Kentucky Women Writers Conference Director Julie Kuzneski Wrinn said. “I’m sure she’ll find an appreciative audience for those in Lexington."

Diaz's poetry has garnered several awards including the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from Bread Loaf, the Narrative Poetry Prize, the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Her poems, folding Spanish and Mojave into American English, yield an urgent and important new voice to the cannon of contemporary Native American poetry, finding a place among the work of Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo.

The poet is also an advocate for the Mojave language and a director of the language preservation program at Fort Mojave. Diaz's work with the three surviving fluent speakers of Mojave has been featured on news outlets including "PBS NewsHour." She holds a master's degree from Old Dominion University, which she earned after playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia.

Locals can experience Diaz's poetry first at the conference's upcoming free poetry workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 11, at the Carnegie Center. This program will consist of four 25-minute sessions where participants will use exercises and artifacts to generate new poems. Each exercise will be based on a poem by one of the presenting poets at the 2016 Kentucky Women Writers Conference — Diaz, Lisa Russ Spaar and Bianca Lynne Spriggs. The workshop will be led by Kimberly Miller and Katie Riley, leaders of the community writing group Poezia and members of the conference board of advisors.

Enrollment is limited for the June poetry workshop. Individuals interested in attending should reserve a spot by contacting Kimberly Miller at

At the conference, Diaz will present a plenary session and poetry reading beginning 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16. She will also teach a two-day workshop titled "Mining the Deep: Discovering Our Emotional Images." This generative workshop will explore the notion of image as more than a thing you can see and will run from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16 and 17.

"Images are the vessels of story, history, mythology, action and emotion, among other things. Using previous knowledge of our images of obsession, we will do a series of exercises to help discover and mine our new, emotional images. To paraphrase painter Francis Bacon, we will return the image to our nervous systems more violently — meaning, we will build images that make us and our readers feel,” Diaz said.

The conference events featuring Diaz are open to registrants only. To register visit:

Now in its 38th year, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is an annual event known for bringing notable women writers to Lexington for readings, writing workshops and discussions. A program housed in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, the conference is made possible in part by continued community partnerships, including its primary venue, the Carnegie Center. Registration for this conference is now open.


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MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Hale, 859-257-8716;