IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

IAIA Alumni Receive American Book Awards

Santa Fe, NM | Nov 13, 2013 –

Two graduates and one faculty member of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Creative Writing Department have received American Book Awards, adding to the long list of prestigious achievements by IAIA Creative Writing alumni and faculty.


Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo (Mvskoke/Creek), dg nanouk okpik (Inupiat/Inuit) and Natalie Diaz (Akimel O’Odham) received the award recognizing outstanding achievement from diverse writers. Harjo, who graduated from IAIA in 1968, was honored for her most recent book, Crazy Brave, A Memoir (W.W. Norton & Company). This was the second American Book Award for Harjo, who was honored with her book of poetry, In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press), in 1991. okpik, a 2005 IAIA graduate, was honored for her first book of poetry, Corpse Whale (University of Arizona Press).  New IAIA M.F.A. Creative Writing faculty member Natalie Diaz also received the award for her first book of poetry, When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press), published last year.

The Before Columbus Foundation created the award to honor excellence in contemporary, multicultural American literature. No categories or cash prizes are included. Award winners are nominated and selected by a panel of writers, editors and publishers who represent the diversity of American literary culture.

Creative Writing and alumni achievements have long been part of IAIA’s artistic legacy, starting with the Vincent Price Awards in 1963, which were given by the late actor himself. In the past 24 years, IAIA B.F.A. and A.F.A. Creative Writing students have produced 25 books with reputable presses and have gone on to excel in top graduate programs, including Brown and Cornell universities, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. IAIA alumni have also won two Wallace Stegner Fellowships, five American Book Awards, two Whiting Writers Awards, a Lannan Literary Award, one PEN/O. Henry Prize and one PEN Open Book Award, to name just a few.


dg nanouk okpik

IAIA also continues to be one the few programs in the nation offering a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, and the only one in the country with a Native focus. Undergraduates are published in an annual student anthology and are visited each year by award-winning writers like Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Derek Walcott, and C.D. Wright in a program funded by a grant from the Lannan Foundation. Each summer students attend the Napa Summer Writers Conference, Idyllwild Arts’ Summer Poetry Program, and the Naropa Summer Writers Program.

dg nanouk okpik, who worked and went to school full time while trying to finish her manuscript, said her experiences at IAIA helped her become the writer she is today.

“The beautiful Red Road at the Institute of American Indian Arts has been my grounding stone, which built me up to attend school,” okpik said. “This opportunity gave legs to stand on like a sandpiper, swift and agile, yet hungry for more.”

Harjo, who was also awarded a PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction for Crazy Brave, also said IAIA gave her the foundation to fuel her creativity.

“It was my time as a high school student at IAIA in the late sixties that imparted to me a collective vision of Indigenous arts and their impact in a society, a generation,” she said. “I am still working from that energy, that love of invention, design and knowing.”

Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz

Continuing to build upon its legacy and expand on its strengths, IAIA created a low residency Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing earlier this year, recruiting alumni and award-winning authors as faculty members, including Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), Sherwin Bitsui (Diné), Joseph Boyden (Metis/Ojibwe), Santee Frazier (Cherokee) and Susan Power (Standing Rock Sioux).

“The MFA Program at IAIA provides promising Native writers instruction, direction and support,” says MFA Director Jon Davis, who is also the city of Santa Fe’s Poet Laureate. “Both Native and non-Native writers come to immerse themselves in Native literature and learn to write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and screenwriting from an excellent, dedicated faculty.”

For more information about the American Book Awards, click here. For more information about IAIA’s undergraduate and graduate Creative Writing programs, click here.

                                                 # # #

Contact Information

Kim Baca, 505.424.2351 or kbaca@iaia.edu