Natalie Diaz

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Date: 2021
Document Type: Biography
Length: 882 words

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About this Person
Born: Needles, California, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Poet
Updated:June 24, 2021


Education: Old Dominion University, M.F.A. Addresses: Home: Surprise, AZ.


Writer. Directs language revitalization program at Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, AZ. Has played professional basketball in Europe and Asia.


Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, Bread Loaf Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry, and Narrative magazine prize, all 2012, for poem "Downhill Triolets"; Nimrod/ Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry; Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction; MacArthur Fellow "Genius Grant," MacArthur Foundation, 2018; Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 2021, for Postcolonial Love Poem.



  • When My Brother Was an Aztec (poetry), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2012.
  • What to Do When You're Having Two: The Twins Survival Guide from Pregnancy through the First Year, Avery Trade (New York, NY), 2013.
  • (Editor, with Hannah Ensor) Bodies Built for Game: The Prairie Schooner Anthology of Contemporary Sports Writing, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2019.
  • Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2020.

Contributor to literary publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.


Natalie Diaz is a poet, a former professional basketball player, and an activist for preserving the language of the Mojave Indian tribe of which she is a member. The daughter of a father of Spanish ancestry and a Native American mother, she left the Mojave reservation in Arizona for Old Dominion University in Virginia, where she began writing poetry, earned a master's degree, and played basketball. She then played in pro leagues in Europe and Asia before returning to the reservation, where she is working with tribal elders to preserve the Mojave language.

Diaz's first book of poetry, When My Brother Was an Aztec, is divided into three sections, one dealing with reservation life, the second with her drug-addicted brother, the third with romantic love. There is a commonality in the experiences she details in the poems, she told Rigoberto Gonzalez in an interview for the National Book Critics Circle's Critical Mass Web log. "The social and the personal are closely bound in the places where I come from," she explained to Gonzalez. "My brother is every brother. My parents' pain is every parent's pain. Though I have invited you to sit at our specific dinner table, every house on the reservation has that dinner table." She also said that she wished to "begin and direct the conversations about what is wrong in my community and in my family, rather than having it pointed out and assessed by those who do not know my people or the places where we have struggled." She also noted that the collection reflects the many aspects of her heritage and her fascination with the mythology of various peoples, not only her own, and stories that are termed myths but actually represent the truth. She uses imagery drawn from the myths of many cultures and makes reference to other poets, including Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud. "I was raised to hold many truths in my hand, all at the same time, and to never have to drop one in order to have faith [in] the other," she told Gonzalez. "This is the beauty of growing up in a multicultural family. Our capacity for identity is large."

A poem about her brother, for instance, has images from Greek mythology: "Holler upstairs to your brother to hurry. He won't come right away. Remember how long it took the Minotaur to escape the labyrinth." She also sees her brother as Jesus Christ, or perhaps Judas Iscariot. Some other poems describe various people on her reservation and the way Indians have suffered at the hands of white people. "The world has tired of tears," she writes. "We weep owls now. / They live longer. / They know their way in the dark." A poem titled "Hand-Me-Down Halloween" portrays Diaz's experience of wearing a Tonto costume given to her by a white neighbor, being taunted by the other Indian children because of it, and then taking revenge on the white boy. Diaz displays a sense of humor and the absurd in some of the works, such as one depicting a Mojave Barbie sneaking away to meet her Caucasian Ken. Then there are the romantic erotic poems such as "I Watch Her Eat an Apple," in which Diaz writes, "If there is a god of fruit or things devoured, / and this is all it takes to be beautiful, / then God, please, / let her eat another apple / tomorrow."

Diaz's debut collection brought her praise for her eloquent treatment of her subjects. "The majority of the book is a worthy attempt at honoring the poet's life and her influences, and I give her credit for doing so without falling into the trap of archetypes often associated with Indian writers, particularly poverty porn," remarked Diana Anterian in the online magazine Coldfront. A Publishers Weekly reviewer saw personal and mythic power in the poems, while Booklist contributor Diego Baez thought some of them displayed "unrepentant brilliance." Anterian found that Diaz occasionally "writes with too heavy a touch" and that some of the poems "struggle to contribute to the book in general," but she found the book "an excellent collection" on the whole. "When My Brother Was an Aztec reads with an undoubtedly earnest voice and illustrates Diaz's capacity for language and metaphor, while still heeding her personal experience," Anterian concluded.




Booklist, May 1, 2012, Diego Baez, review of When My Brother Was an Aztec, p. 74.

Publishers Weekly, June 25, 2012, review of When My Brother Was an Aztec, p. 150.


Blast Furnace, http:// (July 25, 2012), "An Interview with Natalie Diaz."

Coldfront, (June 11, 2012), Diana Anterian, review of When My Brother Was an Aztec.

Copper Canyon Press Web site, (March 5, 2013), brief biography.

Critical Mass: The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, (September 19, 2012), Rigoberto Gonzalez, interview with Natalie Diaz.

Lannan Foundation Web site, (February 20, 2013), brief biography.

PBS News Hour Web site, (June 20, 2012), Jeffrey Brown, interview with Natalie Diaz.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000304890