It was as a student at Madras High School that Elizabeth Woody first discovered her talent with words, writing about the landscapes on and around the Warm Springs Indian Reservation where her mother’s ancestors once lived.
Nearly 40 years later, Woody, today a Portland resident, will become Oregon’s eighth poet laureate next month.
Thursday, Woody said she was very excited about the appointment by Gov. Kate Brown, particularly in light of the many talented poets living and working in Oregon today.
The role of poet laureate has been ill-defined since Edwin Markham became the first Oregon poet bestowed with the honor in 1923. The position has been left vacant for stretches as long as 20 years and was held for 16 years by William Stafford, one of the state’s most widely acclaimed writers.
The poet laureate program was revived by former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who in 2006 named Lawson Fusao Inada as the state’s poet laureate after an extended vacancy. Woody was part of the process of revamping the position, establishing a small stipend and the expectation that the poet laureate share work at regular readings.
A member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Woody will also be the state’s first Native American poet laureate.
Born on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, Woody moved to Central Oregon as a child and attended Madras schools though her high school graduation. Her father is of Navajo ancestry, she said, while her mother has roots in the various tribes of the Deschutes and Columbia river basins.
Woody said while she doesn’t think of herself as a Native American poet exclusively, her heritage is a key piece of her identity that informs her work.
“I spent a lot of time writing about the Columbia River, the Deschutes River, the mountains,” she said. “The Cascade mountains are very important to our mythology and our life. We spend much of our time gathering foods in the mountains and the forest, hunting, fishing.”
Like the last three Oregon poets laureate, Woody was nominated to the position. A committee of 20 reviewed the nominations and recommended her appointment. A ceremony will be held in late April to welcome her to the position and recognize outgoing poet laureate Peter Sears.
Woody will serve as poet laureate for two years and will be expected to deliver six to 20 public poetry readings at locations around the state.
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