Lectures and Workshops

Saad Nizhóní (Beautiful Words)


About the Event

Autry and Navajo multimedia documentarian Pamela J. Peters introduced two evenings featuring remarkable Navajo poets whose beautiful words integrate Diné history, language and culture. This Zoom event showcased the talents of Sherwin Bitsui and Tacey M. Atsitty on July 16, and concludde with readings from Jake Skeets and Rowie Shebala on July 23.

Navajos have all been deeply impacted, either directly or indirectly through our kinship ties, by COVID-19. Most news reporting reveals the tragic impact of COVID-19 on the Navajo reservation, yet we rarely hear from the people directly impacted. These readings offers an opportunity to hear from Navajo people who have been affected by the virus. Their distinctive poetry illustrates the perseverance of the People, the strong connections individuals have to their homeland, and the language and traditional life of the Diné.

This Zoom event not only showcase four Navajo poets, but also provided an opportunity to donate to the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program. This program was created under the Utah Navajo Health system to provide food and supplies to elders. Program coordinator Sahar Khadjenoury described the organization’s efforts, provides information on making donations, and explains how each donation helps the surrounding tribal communities.



Saad Nizhóní (Beautiful Words): Sherwin Bitsui (Diné) & Tacey M. Atsitty, Diné (Navajo)


Sherwin Bitsui  (Diné), Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He is the author of Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003), Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), and Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). His honors include a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and a Native Arts & Culture Foundation Arts Fellowship. He is also the recipient of a 2010 PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Writers Award. In addition to teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, he is on faculty at Northern Arizona University. 
Works for purchase: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/dissolve-by-sherwin-bitsui/ 

Tacey M. Atsitty, Diné (Navajo), is Tsénahabiłnii (Sleep Rock People) and born for Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle People). She was born in Logan, UT, grew up in Kirtland, NM but is originally from Cove, AZ. Atsitty is a recipient of the Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship, the Corson-Browning Poetry Prize, Morning Star Creative Writing Award, and the Philip Freund Prize. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Brigham Young University and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY, EPOCH, Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, New Poets of Native Nations, and other publications. Her first book is Rain Scald (University of New Mexico Press, 2018).  

Atsitty is the director of the Navajo Film Festival, poetry judge for the Eggtooth Editions Chapbook Contest, a member of Advisory Council for BYU’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, a member of the Advisory Board for Lightscatter Press and the Intermountain All-Women Hoop Dance Competition at This is the Place Heritage Park. She is currently a PhD student at Florida State University. Visit unmpress.com to view works available for purchase.

Jake Skeets (Diné) is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He is the author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, a National Poetry Series-winning collection of poems. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skeets is a winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Skeets edits an online publication called Cloudthroat and organizes a poetry salon and reading series called Pollentongue, based in the Southwest. He is a member of Saad Bee Hózhǫ́: A Diné Writers’ Collective and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. Visit palabrasbookstore.com and brightsidebookshop.com to see works available for purchase.

Roanna “Rowie” Shebala is a Native American of the Dine (Navajo Tribe) and Shiwi (Zuni Tribe). Shebala is Tsenjikini (Cliff Dweller clan), Born for Deeshchii’nii (Start of the Red Streak clan), her maternal grandparents are the Tótsohnii (Big Water Clan), and her paternal grandparents are the Naasht’ezhi Dine’e’- Dakkya:kwe (Zuni-Frog Clan). She is from Fort Defiance, AZ. Shebala earned her B.S. in Theater at Northern Arizona University and is a current M.F.A. in Creative Writing student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Spoken Word artist who has been featured on four National Poetry Slam team, a five-time representative on the Women of the World Poetry Slam, and a two-time representative for the Individual World Poetry Slam. Representing the following cities: Phoenix, AZ; Sedona AZ; Flagstaff, AZ; and Albuquerque, NM. Her work has been featured in Button Poetry, Indian Country Today, in various zines, and magazines such as Annick Press, Red Ink, Wicked Banshee Press, and Suspect Press. Shebala has performed her spoken word poetry at the Lincoln Center for the Out of Doors Project and nationally. She credits her father for gifting her with storytelling; her works combine story, poetry, and performance. She is also a member of Saad Bee Hozho: Dine Writers' Collective. Visit amazon.com for works available for purchase.

Pamela J. Peters is an Indigenous multimedia documentarian and artist from the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Pamela is from the Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water  clan). She is a multimedia artist, producing works she regards as "Indigenous Realism" exploring the lives and diversities of real American Indians. As an artist and curator, she pushes viewers to critically analyze the psychological and historical structures of Native Americans in mass media through an Indigenous lens while expressing creative sovereignty.  She lives in Los Angeles. 

Sahar Khadjenoury, originally from Aneth, Ut, Sahar attended Whitehorse High School, and graduated in film and media studies at the University of Utah, and currently works with the Iina Bihoo'aah Program within the UNHS. Her Utah Navajo and Persian heritage is easily recognizable within her community and gives her a sense of k'e (kinship) during her daily deliveries 

The Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program was created under the Utah Navajo Health System to provide food and supplies to elders, COVID positive households, families in need, and the autoimmuno-compromised. UNCRP covers all of Utah Navajo from Montezuma Creek to Navajo Mountain in efforts to reduce the trips to border towns and flatten the curve. To donate, visit unhsinc.org and utahnavajorelief.com.