Natalie Diaz (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)
“What is a love poem for someone like me who grew up where I grew up, who the world has defined already for what fits and doesn’t fit of love,” Natalie Diaz told a roomful of poetry fans Wednesday.
That was an overarching theme exhibited in her visit to the University of South Carolina as a part of its “Open Book” series.
Diaz, an associate professor at Arizona State University, is an award-winning poet from the Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California.
Her work has been featured in Narrative, Poetry Magazine, Drunken Boat and the Iowa Review, among many others.
The Open Book 2023 is a literary series created by professor Hosted by Elise Blackwell and sponsored by USC’s College of Arts and Sciences.
This year’s events are free to the public with special guests including Michael Chabon, NoViolet Bulawayo, and next week’s speaker, Richard Powers.
Diaz read excerpts from her newest publication and Pulitzer-prize winning “Postcolonial Love Poem” at USC’s Capstone House.
The New York Times Book Review called that second publication “one of the most important poetry releases in years.”
Copies of the collection were available for purchase with the opportunity to get it signed by Diaz at the end of the event.
Growing up on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, she grew to find love and how to be loved in a place that was born out of conflict, she told the crowd.
She found this love through language and basketball, both working together.
Diaz is unparalleled in both; an award-winning poet and a NCAA Final Four basketball player for Old Dominion University.
“I write like I play (basketball),” she said.
Sport and poetry are her therapy in many ways, especially in her bouts with anxiety.
“I have had it (anxiety) all of my life,” Diaz said. “I don’t sleep often, and when I played basketball I think it pretty much helped me deal with it.”
This hit home for several attendees, who said they fight the same battle.
“It’s always comforting to see someone like her (Diaz) overcome something that I have been struggling with for a while now,” said Open Book attendee Sofia Damico.
Many others were just happy to be there.
“I had a great time,” said attendee Samuel Womack. “This was my first Open Book, but I would like to attend more now.”
The final, April 12, session in the 2023 Open Book series will feature Richard Powers, winner of the National Book Award for “The Echo Maker” and the Pulitzer Prize for the novel “The Overstory.”