Navajo Poet Turns to Fiction of Her Peers

Luci Tapahonso is a poet and writer, known for her stories of growing up and living on the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico. Her summer reads include Yellowcake, by old high school friend Ann Cummins, and Elsie's Business by Lakota writer Frances Washburn .

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This week's summer reader is Luci Tapahonso. She's a poet and writer known for her stories of growing up and living on a Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico. She joins us from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Welcome.

Ms. LUCI TAPAHONSO (Poet and Writer): Thank you.

ROBERTS: What are you reading right now?

Ms. TAPAHONSO: I am reading "Yellowcake" by Ann Cummins, and it's a work of fiction about uranium exploration and mining in northwest New Mexico in the 1950s.

ROBERTS: Tell me about Ann Cummins. I'm not familiar with her.

Ms. TAPAHONSO: Ann Cummins is a professor at the University of Arizona in Flagstaff. And we grew up together in Shiprock. And the uranium industry has very much impacted a lot of families and a lot of the land in that area. So I really like it because it evokes memories of my hometown in that period and I recognize, kind of, the quirks of people and the way people interact with each other.

ROBERTS: What do you want to read when you're finished with "Yellowcake"?

Ms. TAPAHONSO: I am going to reread Frances Washburn's "Elsie's Business." She's a Lakota writer. And I read it last year but I read it in the middle of all kinds of things. So I just want to go back and take, you know, a few days and just immerse myself completely in it.

ROBERTS: Do you have a book or two that you would read if you had all the time in the world?

Ms. TAPAHONSO: I think I would reread Leslie Silko's "Story Teller." It's a combination of sort of autobiographical essays as well as poems and short fiction that's based at Laguna Pueblo here in New Mexico. And it's shaped sort of like a family album. And it has pictures of her grandparents and her parents and herself as a child, and of animals and of the land. So you see how the Laguna point of view integrates all of the surrounding area.

ROBERTS: One thing I find in common of friends I know who live in the southwest is that they spend a lot of time driving. Do you listen to books on tape? Are you a driver?

Ms. TAPAHONSO: I do. Yeah. I have an iPod. And I download books and the last couple of days I drove up to Shiprock, which altogether is probably about seven or eight hours. And I listen to "I Feel Bad About My Neck" by Nora Ephron. It was so funny and it was so good. So I really like audio books. It's like having a passenger with you that, you know, who talks away and when you make a stop or get gas, they're waiting for you. You know, you come back and they start talking again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of barking dog)

ROBERTS: What's your dog reading?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TAPAHONSO: Yeah, they're reading about new kinds of treats that come out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Our summer reader Luci Tapahonso. Thank you so much.

Ms. TAPAHONSO: Thank you.

ROBERTS: This is NPR News.

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