Meet Natalie Diaz, the first Latina to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry
Diaz won the award for her book of poetry, which details stories of her identities, as well as the positioning and experiences of her communities in the U.S.
Since the award for the category started being given out in 1922, there had never been a Latina to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry — until now.
Natalie Diaz is the first Latina poet to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry, for her second poetry collection book, Postcolonial Love Poem.
The collection centers around her identities and the injustices that many in her communities often face.
“I was very emotional with this award and I think part of it is because when I set out to put the book together, I knew I wanted to be at stake,” Diaz told The Arizona Republic. “And when I saw that, I mean, I knew that I wanted my body, the places I’ve come from, the people I come from, to be of consequence to the world and to kind of bring our perspectives and conversations to bear in our larger national conversations.”
Given her dual identities as both an Indigenous and Latinx woman, she often uses her poetry to reflect upon the experiences — both good and bad — and underrepresentation that exists among these communities in the U.S.
“The word I use often is the book to me feels like a constellation,” said Diaz. “It's able to pool a lot of different communities together. I, of course, have an Indigenous lens, but yet I think that Indigenous lens is extremely important to non-Indigenous peoples. We're all fighting for our water. We're all fighting for this Earth, for one another against injustice.”
Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. Her father was Mexican and her mother is Native, and Diaz speaks Mojave, English, and Spanish. She is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community, and identifies as Mojave, Akimel O’odham and Latinx, as well as queer.
She is just the second Latinx poet to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. William Carlos Williams, whose mother was Puerto Rican, was the first to win the prize back in 1963.
The Pulitzer Prize adds to a long list of recognitions and accolades Diaz has received throughout her career. Earlier this year, she became the youngest person to be elected to the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors. In 2018, she won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship “genius” grant, which recognizes exceptional creativity and provides recipients with the flexibility to pursue their own artistic, intellectual, and professional activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.
"I think one of the most rewarding things about poetry is poetry has this incredible capacity to hold what is at once painful and also what is joyful," said Diaz. "It can hold tensions. It can let you not know things. It can let you question things. It can let you even have no language … to express the ways we feel or the ways we're imagining things."
In addition to her poetry, Diaz also teaches creative writing at Arizona State University and is a prominent figure in the preservation of the Mojave language. Through each endeavor, Diaz’s focus remains on finding new ways to express the feelings, fears and experiences of her people.