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Top talent bring skills to literary event

Jewell Parker

Jewell Parker

Two writers with profoundly distinctive voices - Navajo poet Sherwin Bitsui and novelist, memoirist and playwright Jewell Parker Rhodes - will launch the winter/spring Literary Southwest series on Thursday, Feb. 25.

The event begins at 7 p.m. in Yavapai College Library's Susan B. Webb Community Room (Building 19, Room 147) on the Prescott campus. All Literary Southwest series are free and open to the public.

Bitsui is originally from White Cone, Ariz., on the Navajo Reservation. Currently a Tucson resident, he is Dine of the Todich'ii'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl'izilani (Many Goats Clan).

His poems have appeared in numerous publications, and he is the author of a new collection, "Flood Song" (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) and "Shapeshift" (University of Arizona Press, 2003).

Of his poetry, Bitsui says, "I'm inspired mostly by language and by the shapes a language may take in the space of a poem. I'm very interested in language as matter and how poetry can bring forth new designs and/or dimensions to elliptical narrative structures."

In his current book, "Flood Song," he has written a book-length song poem, in which he's "attempted to speak to a contemporary world in which the interplay of Navajo and non-Navajo thought are investigated through image and sound."

A few lines say:

"I parcel ounces of my body for each new acre grazed spear my hands with my sharpened knees, to keep some kernel of this trail my own some piece of the idea of now before it becomes was."

"Flood song is a poem that rushes forward much like a flash flood would," Bitsui says.

Rhodes is the author of a trilogy: "Voodoo Dreams," "Magic City," and "Douglass Women."

These novels, she said, are based on real people and historical events from the African American tradition and illustrate that "New Orleans has been a big deal" in her life. The central character in her stories is Marie Laveau, a Louisiana Creole practitioner of "voudou," and in her second trilogy, Laveau's great granddaughter is the protagonist in a contemporary mysteries. "Voodoo Season" and "Yellow Moon" are already out and the third, "Hurricane Levee Blues" will publish in 2011. A children's book, "Ninth Ward," is due out this year and is the story of children's survival in Hurricane Katrina.

Among her readings at Literary Southwest, Rhodes knows now that she will draw some from her memoir, "Porch Stories," a love song to her grandmother, whose stories she told her as a child have had a profound effect on her life, she said.

These stories are "folk tales, drawn from our family and the African American tradition," Rhodes said, often focusing on a moral about "how to live a good life and be happy." At the conclusion of "Porch Stories," Rhodes has left space for readers to write recollections of their own grandmothers and the wisdom they passed on to them.

Rhodes is the artistic director for Global Engagement and the Piper Endowed chair of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

For more information about the Literary Southwest series, call director Jim Natal at 776-2276 or e-mail, or Gwen Raubolt at 776-2288 or e-mail

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