Simon Ortiz Biography

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(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 school, he began to take his writing more seriously, seeing himself “as a writer later in life” and becoming “even more of a reader, heavily into recent and current poets and novelists,” an eclectic grouping including Dylan Thomas,...

(The entire section is 2,491 words.)