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NWC News Desk

Native American writer shares his poetry March 4 at Northwest College

Posted February 20, 2009

POWELL, Wyo. - Seattle writer Duane Niatum will read from his poetry Wednesday, March 4, as the last author of the Northwest College 2008-09 Writers Series. His presentation begins at 4 p.m. in the Lounge of the Orendorff Building on campus.

Niatum is a member of the Klallam tribe, a Coast Salish group from the Washington coast near the Strait of Juan de Fuca. His poetry builds on stories from Klallam tradition and history while incorporating material from his travels, especially in Asia, and from his love of the visual arts and music.

His books of poetry include "After the Death of an Elder Klallam," "Ascending Red Cedar Moon," "Digging Out the Roots," "Drawings of the Song Animals," and "The Crooked Beak of Love." 

Niatum walks the line of crossed cultures in his poetry, with one foot treading through the European influences in this life and the other marching forward the tracks of his Native American heritage. In his preface to "The Crooked Beak of Love," he says, "I believe it would be in our artistic community's interest to utilize what is best in both cultures and attempt to heal the old, old wounds, with reciprocity being an inherent part of the healing."

Poetry critic David L. Moore feels Niatum has accomplished this goal, saying the "theme of art as healing and survival has animated his (Niatum's) career." He goes on to say that, "Niatum's intense love poems, so wrapped in an individual consciousness, tend toward tragedy, whereas his poems of nature and culture, striving for a voice rising on the wind in the cedars of his ancestors, tend toward reconciliation of history and promise."

Much of Niatum's sense of history and promise comes from his family. "My grandfather's life and stories became the touchstones of my life and art," Niatum said. "The center of my artistic self starts from his home and his parents' home which was almost on the beach. Therefore, my grandfather's place of ancestors will go on shaping and nourishing my life and art to the grave."

Niatum did his undergraduate work in English at the University of Washington in Seattle.  He holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University, as well as a doctorate in contemporary art of the Northwest Coast from the University of Michigan.

He has edited two highly respected anthologies of Native American verse, "Carriers of the Dream Wheel" and "Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry."

During his long career in education, he taught at six colleges and universities in Washington in addition to the University of Michigan. He was also a visiting instructor at the Foundation Scholaire et Culturelle Internationale Complexe de Valbonne in Valbonne, France.

In addition to poetry, Niatum also writes plays and fiction.

Niatum will be on the NWC campus the entire first week in March as writer in residence. He will lecture in anthropology and writing classes and will also participate in the NWC First Friday reading at noon Friday, March 6, in the Hinckley Library Amphitheater. For more information about his classroom presentations, e-mail Rob Stothart or call (307) 754-6431. Admission to all venues is free of charge.