Diné College will be offering a new BFA degree emphasis in creative writing beginning in fall 2021. The program was approved last month by the Board of Regents.
“Based on our research, there is a demand for this degree program,” said Diné College President Charles “Monty” Roessel. “We are an indigenous-centered institution with critically-acclaimed and published faculty here at the College. It’s only fitting to offer this this degree program because it will allow the Navajo People to sustain the tradition and role of storytelling through the intense study of the creative writing discipline.”
The college has had a wealth of literary talent since its founding in 1968 as the first tribal college, such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Rex Lee Jim, and many others. The famed Navajo Community College Press also published prominent titles in Diné and Native literature. Since then, the Saad Na’ach’aah Reading series, organized by Orlando White, has continued to bring famous poets and writers to the college, including Joy Harjo, Arthur Sze, Natalie Diaz, Luci Tahahonso, and Simon Ortiz. “We plan to expand on our successes and grow into the hub for Native writing,” said Dr. Paul Willeto, Dean for the School of Arts, Humanities, and English.
Willeto said a February 2020 informal market survey showed that 54% of respondents said either themselves or someone they know would be interested in the creative writing degree program. The most popular genres, based on the survey, are poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The degree curriculum includes workshop courses in those genres. Students also have a choice in a range of writing classes including world writing and Diné storytelling. At the senior level, students will work on a substantial body of original creative work.
“We created the program after looking at programs offered by six regional universities,” said Dr. Willeto. “This program is ideal for someone who wants to be a working writer, or if they want to continue on with graduate studies, or a position in communications.”
The current creative writing faculty include:
- Matthew Jake Skeets (Diné) has an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Among his many awards includes the Whiting Award for Poetry Winner 2020 and the 2020 American Book Award.
- Jesse Tsinajinnie Maloney, MFA, MBA (Diné) is the author of Health Carefully (Cyberwit Press) and is featured in the Anthology Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century currently available through Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts.
- Haesong Kwon hails from Incheon, Korea. He is the author of The People’s Field, winner of the 2019 Cowles Poetry Prize. He has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
- Alysa Landry, a long-time journalist, is completing her doctoral dissertation in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Gratz University and has two academic books to be published in 2021. She recently published an article for Cowboys & Indians magazine.
- Anna Lee Walters (Pawnee/Otoe-Missouria) is also a recipient of the 1985 American Book Award and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. She is also winner of the Virginia McCormick Scully Award. Her novel Ghost Singer is still available from the University of New Mexico Press.
- Orlando White (Diné) is the author of LETTERRS (Nightboat Books), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award, and Bone Light (Red Hen Press). He is recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship, John Ciardi Fellowship at Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and a Lannan Foundation Residency. He received his MFA from Brown University.
“The program is an opportunity to revitalize storytelling in the 21st century,” said Professor Skeets. “For years, literature has been written about Diné and now it’s time we see literature written by Diné.” A number of Diné writers have published books recently, including Dissolve by Sherwin Bitsui (Copper Canyon Press), Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller (One World), and The Diné Reader (University of Arizona Press), a new anthology of Diné literature, edited by Esther Belin.
Students interested in the creative writing program at Diné College should email Shaina Nez, the program coordinator for the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, at email@example.com.
Diné College is a four-year tribal college accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and located on the Navajo reservation with campuses in Arizona and New Mexico and primarily serves Navajo students. The school offers 13 bachelor’s degrees, 20 associate’s, and nine certificate programs. The cost of attendance is $3,930. The college, established in 1968, is the first tribal college and was formerly named Navajo Community College.