On October 7, Eastern English Professor Rebecca Lauren Gidjunis (‘01) and Natalie Diaz, professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts Low-Res MFA Program in Arizona, held a poetry reading and discussion for Eastern faculty and students entitled “The Mythology of Faith and Family.” Diaz and Gidjunis met at Old Dominion University while studying for their Masters of Fine Arts. Now, both teachers and poets, they reflected on how their lives are different, and yet similar, as they discussed identity, family, faith, and writing.
Gidjunis grew up Protestant in a suburban Pennsylvania town while Diaz was raised on a Mojave reservation in a Catholic family. Despite different narratives, they share a common desire to uncover their own truths through poetry. Gidjunis says, “I felt like I had lived a mundane life…but poetry woke me up…poetry makes you pay attention [and realize], ‘Wow, that little tiny moment was really important to understanding the world.’”
Throughout the evening, Diaz and Gidjunis discussed the importance of mythology. Diaz says, “Mythology in general is our way of trying to make sense of things.” The two poets examined how cultural and spiritual myths are a way to tell hidden truths. “[It is] a way to say the unsayable,” says Gidjunis. For Diaz and Gidjunis, poetry is a way to recreate mythology to tell their own truths. At the reading, each shared a few of their own “unsayable” poems, dealing with issues of body image, colonialism and family struggles.
Gidjunis read excerpts from her chapbook, The Schwenkfelders, which won the 2009 Keystone Chapbook Prize. The collection explores the stories of her German female ancestors who, like many women, had their stories overlooked by the annals of history. Using records and letters from her ancestors, Gidjunis created poems showing the narratives of these women.
Diaz shared poems from her book, When My Brother Was an Aztec, dealing with issues of family addiction and her memories of growing up on “the rez.” One poem, entitled “If Eve Side-Stealer & Mary Busted-Chest Ruled the World,” reimagines Eve, Mary, God, and the world as Native American women. This poem questions what history and religion would look like if they were reclaimed from white privilege and patriarchy. Diaz says, “We have to…reinvent mythology to get to the truth.”
After the reading, Diaz and Gidjunis offered important insight about writing one’s own mythologies. Student Courtney Kuntz (‘14) says of the evening, “Hearing both [poets] discuss their writing processes, and how they incorporate their personal experiences and truth into their pieces, has helped me to grow as a writer.”
Featured Image by JPG Photography