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Laura Tohe

Poet, Writer, Librettist, Scholar of Indigenous American Literature

Navajo Nation Poet Laureate



Laura Tohe is Diné.  She is Tsénahabiłnii, Sleepy Rock People clan, and born for the Tódich’inii, Bitter Water clan.  She grew up at Crystal, New Mexico near the Chuska Mountains on the Diné homeland. 


Her published books include Making Friends with Water (chapbook); No Parole Today, a book on boarding schools; Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community, co-edited with Heid Erdrich; Tseyí Deep in the Rock, in collaboration with photographer, Stephen Strom; and Code Talker Stories, an oral history book with the remaining Navajo Code Talkers.  The Phoenix Symphony commissioned her to write the libretto for Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio, which made its 2008 world premiere as part of the Phoenix Symphony’s 60th anniversary.  A compact disc recording of Enemy Slayer is on the Naxos classical music label.  It received rave reviews by the Arizona Republic and was called “a triumph” by Opera Today


A poet, writer, and librettist, Tohe's work has been published in such journals as  PloughsharesNew Letters, cream city review, Red Ink, World Literature Today and many others. Her work has appeared in the U.S., Canada, South America and in Europe with French, Dutch and Italian translations.   She has read her poetry internationally in the U.S., Europe, and South America. Laura holds a doctorate degree in creative writing, Indigenous American Literature, and American Literature. 


Laura is Professor with Exemplar Distinction in the English Department at Arizona State University and is an Arizona Speaks presenter for the Arizona Humanities that awarded her the 2006 Dan Schilling Public Scholar award.

In 2015 Laura was honored as the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate for 2015-2017, a title given to her in celebration and recognition of her work as a poet and writer.



Code Talker Stories, Rio Nuevo Press

Making Friends with Water

Out of Print

No Parole Today, West End Press

Tseyi': Deep in the Rock, Reflections on Canyon de Chelly, Stephen E. Strom (photographer), Univ. of Arizona Press

Sister Nations, Heid Erdrich and Laura Tohe (Editors), New Rivers Press

In 2007 the Phoenix Symphony commissioned me to write the libretto for Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio, which made its 2008 world premiere as part of the Phoenix Symphony’s 60th anniversary in collaboration with composer, Mark Grey, sung by Scott Hendricks, baritone, conducted by Michael Christie, the Phoenix Symphony’s Virginia Piper Music Director and with images by Deborah O’Grady. A compact disc recording of Enemy Slayer is on the Naxos classical music label.  Enemy Slayer was part of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, Colorado in July 2008 and was also performed by the Salt Lake Choral Artists at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah in 2009.



Meeting the Spirit of Water

for Glen Tohe


When you come to a river

or lake or pond


one you haven’t met

you must meet its spirit


place your hand into its belly

feel the energy

stroke its power

caress the life source

let it run through your hands

say a prayer


you must meet its spirit

and it will never steal you

was what she told us as children

Map Songs of the Sandhill Cranes


in Mexico

they laid open the maps again

written for them in the 2nd world

in blue light spoken with blue voices

they learned songs that would guide them through all the worlds to come

songs they placed in the spiral of their throats and called them maps

in the blue world they danced with Wind

who liked these feathered beings

so Wind molded and formed their bodies

and taught them to ride on its breath

when the fights and quarrels broke the blue world apart

the cranes gathered their songs and dances and maps

and flew towards the stars

turned their bodies and broke

through a hole in the sky

into the Glittering World

where a grandmother sprinkles corn pollen for their return each year

in the month of The Eagle's Young they find their way to the river that ribbons

past cornfields and cottonwood trees

near the hightway and electric wires

they are calling me now

back to the land of the moonshell river

so I follow their tracks to the water

I stand in the cold wind

in awe and humility

because they have made this journey for me too




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