CROWNPOINT, N.M. — Navajos are natural storytellers, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told the rising generation of Navajo novelists, poets, screenwriters and nonfiction writers July 12.
About 30 aspiring authors gathered at Navajo Technical University (NTU) for the second annual Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute, a program jointly sponsored by the university and the Navajo Women’s Commission. The two-day institute brought together students, faculty and community members to interface with published Navajo authors and learn the tricks of the trade.
“Writing is an art, just like painting or sculpture,” Begaye said. “Navajos are almost made to be writers because we’re visual people. We take photos with our minds and we keep them, unpack them, tell stories based on them.”
As a youth, Begaye read the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica, he said. As an adult, he continues to read about one book every two weeks.
Begaye encouraged young writers to immerse themselves in books and to become lifelong students. He told them to absorb information about everything they see and transform those images into words.
“Spend the time to study a bush from every angle,” he said. “Each way you turn, that bush says something different. It gives you thousands of images, thousands of stories. Take something really small that no one ever sees and unfold the whole thing. Turn it into something really beautiful, something meaningful, something strange, something other people don’t see. Share that with the world in a way that connects.”
The annual Emerging Diné Writers Institute included workshops, presentations and panels from some of the biggest names in Navajo literature and publishing. Presenters included historian Jennifer Denetdale, poet Esther Belin, magazine writer Jacqueline Keeler, children’s writer Lydia Fast Horse, poet Rex Lee Jim, puppet show producer Charmaine Jackson and Navajo Times Publisher Tom Arviso.
Begaye concluded his speech with a challenge to writers to develop their unique voices and be confident as they write their stories.
“One of these days, I’ll be reading the books you publish, the articles you write or the pieces published in magazines,” he said. “I’m expecting to see phenomenal work. Tell me those stories. Touch my heart, my mind, my spirit, my soul. Captivate me. Let me see your world through your eyes.”
Information provided by the Office of the President and Vice President