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 Ploughshares, New 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.
BOOKS & WRITINGS
Code Talker Stories, Rio Nuevo Press
Code Talker Stories, my most recent book, is an oral history book that contains storytelling interviews with 20 of the remaining Navajo Code Talkers who devised a secret code using the Navajo language that was never deciphered during WWII. It is a bilingual text in English and Navajo with images by Deborah O’Grady.
Making Friends with Water
Out of Print
Her chapbook on water, Making Friends with Water was translated into modern dance by The Moving Company in Omaha, Nebraska and was a Prize Winner for Dance Performance from the Institute of Creative Research and Sport Art Academy.
No Parole Today, West End Press
This book on boarding schools, No Parole Today, won the 1999 Poetry of the Year awarded by the Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers. Widely taught in colleges and universities, it is in its 5th printing.
Tseyi': Deep in the Rock, Reflections on Canyon de Chelly, Stephen E. Strom (photographer), Univ. of Arizona Press
Tseyí Deep in the Rock, in collaboration with photographer, Stephen Strom contains poetry and images. It won the Glyph Award for Best Poetry and Best Book by the Arizona Book Association and was listed as a Southwest Book of the Year by Tucson-Pima Public Library.
Sister Nations, Heid Erdrich and Laura Tohe (Editors), New Rivers Press
She co-edited with Heid Erdrich, Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community, an anthology of poetry and fiction by Indigenous women. Published by the Minnesota Historical Society, it was nominated for an award.
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
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