ODU Alumna Natalie Diaz Wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

She was honored for “Postcolonial Love Poem,” a collection that explores what it means to love and be loved in an America best by conflict.

Norfolk, Virginia, UNITED STATES


Norfolk, Virginia, June 11, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Old Dominion University alumna Natalie Diaz was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Friday for “Postcolonial Love Poem,” her collection of what has been described as “heart-wrenching and defiant poems that explore what it means to love and be loved in an America beset by conflict.”

“Postcolonial Love Poem” was also a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection. It was also shortlisted for the 2020 T.S. Eliot Prize.

Diaz, 42, was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe.

She received her bachelor's degree from Old Dominion in 2000. She played on ODU's women's basketball team and later professionally in Europe and Asia.

She returned to ODU for a master's degree in fine arts, which she received in 2007.

“From the basketball court to the writing classroom, Natalie Diaz inspired us,” said Sheri Reynolds, the Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature and department chair and professor of English at ODU. “It’s no surprise to her former professors and classmates from the MFA program in Creative Writing that Natalie has now won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.  We knew it was just a matter of time.”

"For me, poetry is one way I center myself in my body," Diaz said after earning a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2018. "I really believe in the physical power of poetry, of language. Where we come from, we say language has an energy, and I feel that it's a physical energy. To me, it's very similar to what I did on a basketball court."

Her publisher, Graywolf Press, describes “Postcolonial Love Poem” as an anthem of desire against erasure:

“Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection demands that every body carried in its pages — bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers — be touched and held as beloveds. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness: ‘Let me call my anxiety, desire, then. / Let me call it, a garden.’ In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality.

“Diaz defies the conditions from which she writes, a nation whose creation predicated the diminishment and ultimate erasure of bodies like hers and the people she loves: ‘I am doing my best to not become a museum / of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out. // I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.’ ‘Postcolonial Love Poem’ unravels notions of American goodness and creates something more powerful than hope — a future is built, future being a matrix of the choices we make now, and in these poems, Diaz chooses love.”

Diaz is also the author of “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” winner of an American Book Award. She has received many honors, including a USA fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship. Diaz is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University.

 

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