Natalie Díaz Makes History as First Latina To Win a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
Mexican and Native American poet Natalie Díaz is making history as the first Latina to win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Postcolonial Love Poem, a collection of poems inspired by her village that speaks of the erasure of Indigenous peoples, their land, and the injustices suffered by this community.
Díaz is only the second person of Latin origin to win this prestigious award in poetry since the category was established in 1922 —the first went to William Carlos Williams, whose mother was Puerto Rican, in 1963. Only a handful of Hispanic writers have achieved this important award. The most well-known are Cuban American Oscar Hijuelos for The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love in 1990 and Dominican American Junot Díaz, for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.
"I was very emotional with this award, and I think part of it is because when I set out to put the book together, I knew I wanted to be at stake," Díaz said in The Arizona Republic after the awards were announced in June. "And when I say that, I mean, I knew that I knew that I wanted my body, the places I've come from, the people I come from, to be of consequence to the world and to kind of bring our perspectives and conversations to bear in our larger national conversations."
Postcolonial Love Poem focuses on the colonial violence Native Americans have suffered in the past and continue to experience in the present. The collection of poems also includes pieces on pleasure, desire, and the diversity of Native American experiences.
"The word I use often is the book to me feels like a constellation," Díaz said. "It's able to pool a lot of different communities together. I, of course, have an Indigenous lens, but yet I think that Indigenous lens is extremely important to non-Indigenous peoples. We're all fighting for our water. We're all fighting for this Earth, for one another against injustice."
The Arizona State University Associate Professor was born and raised in Needles, California, in the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Village to a Mexican father and Native American mother. She is currently enrolled in the Gila River Indian Tribe and speaks English, Spanish, and Mojave.
"I care so much for the book and for the people that the book has brought me to, but also for the people I hope the book could carry of my life, you know, of my beloveds and my strangers," Díaz told ASU News. "And so in a lot of ways I don't think I've ever felt this way about a prize before, whether it was winning a championship or some of these other prizes — in some ways I feel like the things I'm trying to fight for in language, this was a kind of recognition that I know that they matter even if it's in a small way."
Among her many accolades, Díaz has been awarded the American Book Award for her first poetry book, When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012), is the recipient of the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Award for Poetry, the Louis Untermeyer Fellowship in Poetry from Bread Loaf, the Narrative Poetry Prize, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. In 2018, she won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius fellowship."
She is also the youngest person to be elected to the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors. According to ASU News, her initiation also marked the first time the board of chancellors is comprised of a majority of poets who are women of color.
In January 2020, Díaz also launched the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at ASU to spark action and initiatives toward reimagining what America's borderlands can be.