Simon Ortiz Biography


(Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

Article abstract: Simon Ortiz is a respected and widely read poet.

Ortiz spent his early years at Deetseyamah on Acoma Pueblo land. He is a member of the Eagle (Dyaamih hanoh) clan. He attended McCartys Day School in McCartys, New Mexico, St. Catherine's Indian School in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and Grants High School in Grants, New Mexico.

Following high school, Ortiz worked in uranium mines for Kerr-McGee, served in the U.S. Army, and studied at both the University of New Mexico, where he earned a bachelor's degree, and the University of Iowa, where he earned a master's degree in fine arts. He has taught at Sinte Gleska College in South Dakota and at the University of New Mexico. Ortiz is the author of the books of poems Going for the Rain (1976), A Good Journey (1977), and Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, for the Sake of the Land (1980). He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Fightin’: New and Collected Stories (1983), and edited a collection of native fiction, Earth Power Coming (1983). Ortiz’ work reflects his Acoma Pueblo heritage; it has also been influenced by the social movements of the 1960's and 1970's.

Ortiz’ later publications include Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories (1999), a collection of his own short stories, and Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing (1998), which he edited.

Further Reading

Iftekharuddin, Farhat, Mary Rohrberger, and Maurice Lee, eds. Speaking of the Short Story: Interviews with Contemporary Writers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Rader, Dean. “Luci Tapahonso and Simon Ortiz: Allegory, Symbol, Language, Poetry.” Southwestern American Literature 22, no. 2 (Spring, 1997).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Simon Joseph Ortiz grew up in the town known as McCartys, New Mexico, but known as Deetseyamah to the people of the Acoma (or Aacqumeh) Pueblo, his community (or hanoh). Both his parents connected him to his culture and his later enthusiasm for describing it. His father, who later worked for the railroad, was a tribal elder and woodcarver, and his mother was a potter and storyteller. Like most of the residents, he spoke the Acoma language at home and English at the McCartys Day School he attended, a place that Ortiz describes as carrying out a national policy designed to “sever ties to culture, family, and tribe,” and to “make us into American white people.” In spite of this, Ortiz recalls that “it was exciting, however, to go to school,” and that “reading was fun” because he “loved language and stories.”

In 1954, when Ortiz was in the fifth grade, his family moved to Skull Valley in Arizona, where his father was employed by the Santa Fe Railway, and Ortiz became aware of a world beyond his local community. He contrasted his family’s lives with the lives of the family he read about in the Dick and Jane readers. He and his younger sister and brothers were the only Native Americans at the school, and his curiosity about the other students led him to “read voraciously just about anything I could get my hands on,” authors ranging from H. G. Wells to Mark Twain. His first publication, a Mother’s Day poem, appeared in the Skull Valley School newspaper.

At the St. Catherine’s Indian School in Sante Fe, Ortiz was encouraged by nuns to read beyond the minimal grade requirements, and he began to keep a diary, which led to his lifelong habit of writing in a personal journal. Ortiz continued to write poetry and began to compose “brief, cursory passages” of description, character sketches, plot outlines, and other elements of fiction. When he transferred to Albuquerque Indian School closer to his family’s home, Ortiz registered for a program in vocational training to “become employable,” but at Grants High, an integrated...

(The entire section is 850 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Simon Joseph Ortiz (ohr-TEEZ) is a native of the Acoma Pueblo. He grew up in Deetseyaamah, a rural village of the Acoma Pueblo community, a place also called McCartys, New Mexico. His parents, Joe L. and Mamie Toribio, along with other members of his clan and residents of his birthplace, shaped his values and provided him with an emotional and cultural home that has grounded him in his life and work.

His father, a woodcarver and elder of the tribe, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. He imbued his son with a respect for his culture and a sense of connection with all living things. His mother, a potter and storyteller, passed along legends and myths engendering reverence for everyday activities and stories, ancient and new, that form personal and cultural identity.

Ortiz’s first significant contact with the American, or the “Mericano,” culture came when he and his family relocated to Skull Valley, Arizona, a residential site for railroad workers. There Ortiz first contrasted his life in the minimal housing provided by the railroad company with the lives of suburban Americans as presented in the “Dick and Jane” stories in the elementary school readers. Soon he would leave his family in order to attend the Bureau of Indian Affairs School, St. Catherine’s, in Gallup, New Mexico. Efforts to Americanize native students by punishing them for speaking their own language left the homesick child feeling lonely and estranged. Later he attended high school in Grants, New Mexico, and became in many ways a typical high school student while excelling in academics and leading his peers.

His parents prized education and learning and encouraged Ortiz to continue his education. After high school, he began work at Kerr-McGee, a uranium mine in Grants, thinking the job might lead to a career in science. Instead it took him from typing in an office to laboring in the open pits, an experience he would recall in Fight Back. In 1962, he began to study chemistry at Fort Lewis College. He left to enlist in the United States Army, serving from...

(The entire section is 845 words.)