A Triptych of Interviews with Natalie Diaz

by Andrea J. Nolan

I first met Natalie Diaz when we were both students at Old Dominion University’s MFA program. Natalie had attended ODU as an undergrad on a full basketball scholarship, playing in the NCAA championship game in her freshman year, and was returning to ODU after playing professionally in Europe. She had been a star player (so much so that her poetry readings are now covered in the Sports page) and she likewise shone in the MFA program. It wasn’t a matter of competitiveness or grandiosity, but rather a measure of the quality of her writing and her generosity and strength as a workshop student. Her stories and poems stood out in workshop with their precision of language, with their vivid depictions of scene, with their memorable characters and through her intelligent and often darkly humorous plots. While the rest of us struggled to write one good thesis, Natalie wrote two, one in poetry and one in prose. She did this not to show off, but because while she started the MFA as a poet, she wanted to see what she could learn by writing a fiction thesis.

But even while working on her own writing, she was generous with her time and comments on other people’s work. The first time I workshopped a story, before we became friends, before we even really knew each other’s names, Natalie taught me how to be a writer. My story was overwritten, full of angst and navel-gazing, and it ended in a long, painfully researched and rendered description of chickens. It was a hopeless story, but at the time Natalie filled the margins of my draft with insightful comments, detailing what was good – what could be saved. Then, on the last page, the page of the endless chicken descriptions, she had sketched a hen, more perfectly imagined than any in my long descriptions, feathers drooping, distress in its eyes as an axe swung down towards its head. Below the sketch she’d written, “Kill the chickens.” She was right, the chickens did need to die – they served no purpose, furthered no plot point or character development, they did not even work as metaphor or trope. Now, every time I revise, I think of that directive to “Kill the chickens,” and look for the overwriting, the images that might be pretty, but don’t belong.

You will be hard-pressed to find any chickens to kill in Natalie’s stories or poems. Just as on the basketball court, in writing, Natalie possesses a quality that cannot be taught, but rather only cultivated through work – and believe me, Natalie worked (regardless how much she protests to the contrary). She has continued to work hard, winning prizes in both fiction and poetry, publishing in the best journals and now her first book of poetry, When My Brother Was An Aztec, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. But she also continues to do other work beyond writing, both because of the near impossibility of making a living from writing poetry and short stories, and also because Natalie is still so much more than just a writer.

Currently most of her energy and time is spent directing the Mojave Language Project. Born and raised on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, and being of Pima, Mojave and Spanish heritage, Natalie has always been of many worlds. Her basketball playing was one world, one that gave her an avenue off the reservation. Writing is another world, as she discusses in our first interview. But at her core, Natalie is tied to her family and to her home. Thus, after years of living in Virginia and Europe, she returned home to run the Mojave Language project, coordinating elders and learners in a project to keep the Mojave Language, or Makav, as it is written in Mojave, from dying out. Natalie works as the head learner-teacher, facilitating a handful of elders, the sole remaining speakers of the Mojave language, in passing on the language. None of the elders are trained as teachers, and the passing on of a language is an exercise tied up in cultural taboos and concerns, and so Natalie must walk the line between elder and learner, helping to pass on the language, racing against time to not just preserve a record of Mojave, but to actually keep the language alive and in use, growing and adapting with time. It is possible to be a great storyteller and yet a lackluster writer due to an inattention to language, but it is Natalie’s attention to words that sets her apart as a writer, and it likewise her love of language, tied with her passion for her family and her home, which makes Natalie the perfect person to direct this project.

What now follows is an interview in three parts – a sort of triptych of words. The first interview was more like a conversation, and it was held with an ODU Introduction to Creative Writing workshop. I was covering the class for another professor – Princess Perry – who in turn had been Natalie’s first writing professor, and so coming to speak to the class was a kind of completion of a circle for Natalie. The second interview was held over lunch, and the third interview was tagged on at the end of a long day.

In the interviews, we don’t talk about the story, “How To Love A Woman With No Legs,” which was originally published in The Iowa Review and which is re-printed here in Barely South. However, much of what she talks about in the interviews is evident in that story, from how she adapts biographical events into fiction, to her precision in word choice, to how she writes in scene (even in the typically telling voice of second person narration). It is not a “typical,” Natalie Diaz story, but that is because there is no such thing. It is, though, representative of many of her strengths of precision, language, and courage of voice. Also, like many of her stories, Natalie also wrote a poem on the same theme, titled “A Woman With No Legs.” This crossing of genres, moving back and forth between poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, is yet another example of how Natalie transcends boundaries, developing layers of meaning and story with words, and is vital to understanding Natalie as a writer.

Batten Arts & Letters, Room 1004

For her talk with the Introduction to Creative Writing students, Natalie began with reading “Hooferman,” which is the story that won her the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction in The Bellingham Review. After reading “Hooferman,” to the class, Natalie talked with the class, first answering questions from me, and then from the students.

Barely South: Could you talk with the class about how plot works in “Hooferman”?
Sure. “Hooferman” is actually a good exercise on plot. Because I am more lyrical in my writing, my writing tends to lean more towards poetry and so at times it doesn’t fit the traditional fiction story. So with this story, I took a piece of paper and plotted down five or six points that happened that night – this story is based on something real, and I’ve combined several things that happened with several things that didn’t happen and this is what resulted. But even though it happened, I still needed to plot it out. In imagining the story, I was using true emotions and imagined emotions, true events and imagined events, and because of that everything can get really big and out of control. So I wrote down points like, “So we found a leg, and so and so was there, I remember he swung it around,” and all these ideas started coming. For me it acted like a little ladder, of this happened, and then this happened, and this happened. And since I tend to be long-winded, as an exercise I tried to narrow the story down to 500 words. I actually brought this into workshop first, and it was about eight pages, and it could have either have gone on and on, or I could try to make it a bit more crafty and so I limited myself to 500 and cut and cut and cut. I tried to make every word, and every description, do a lot of work. I wanted to describe the reservation to my readers, but that would have made everything too big, so I just tried to describe certain things, whether it was the creosotes or the streetlights and I did the same thing with my characters. I wanted to give a picture of what some of the people on the reservation are like – we have a lot of kids with no parents, but I didn’t want to go in and say, ‘Well, these are all the problems we deal with on the reservation,’ so instead I just tried to narrow things down. I tried to tell you in three sentences what Boy’s life is like. He doesn’t have any parents, his uncles are at a party, things like that. So for me, this is probably the best exercise I have for plot. It’s just a matter of trying to figure out what are the places I want to take you, what are the things, the actions, I want to show you, and then the descriptions come later, and that’s how I build my plot.

So when you are first plotting a story, sketching it in that way, do you write first in summary and then fill it out, or do you start in scene first?
For me, I always start in scene. The scene that started this first – and this story actually started as a poem – was that we found this old leg. We actually did find this old leg in the canal and had no idea what it was doing there, but you know that could have taken me anywhere. I could have talked only about the leg, but I wanted to show what that leg represented to me at that age. On my reservation we had this thing called the Hooferman – he was like the Boogeyman, the devil – and so for me, that leg represented all the evil, good, bad, real, imagined stories that you hear on the reservation. We’ve all heard the Boogeyman stories, and when you get older those things stop being real except in images and objects and things like this. These are things we all share, you know, we’ve all been scared of something, and we all know the things the dark holds. For me, I always start in scene, in action, and the descriptions will come in action, when I decide how long I want to stay in a place, how long I want to keep my reader in a place. The more I’m in a scene, the more I can smell and taste a story – you can’t hear, taste things when you are in summary.

Let’s talk a bit about the difference between text and subtext, which is something that the students are studying. The plot is the outline of the basic story, of what happened and how, and what order to tell the story in, but the things we like about stories is what they teach us something about life, and that often comes from the subtext – the underlying metaphors and truths – and that definitely seems true in “The Hooferman.” So how much do you know about the subtext when you start the story?
It would be a mistake to start with the subtext. You always want to start small. If I was going to start a story with, ‘I’m going to explain to you what Good and Evil are – or if I set out to explain to you what life is like and the struggles of the reservation – then it would have been this lame, philosophical, soapbox story. I wouldn’t have been trying to show you anything; I’d just have been trying to tell you what I feel or what I think. I think the subtext, for me anyway – especially since I write so much about reservation life – is always going to be there. You are a human being, so you can’t help but write subtext – you can be the most boring human being in the world and you are still going to share universal emotions with everyone in this room. Really, nobody is going to ever write a new story. We are all writing the same stories because we all have the same feelings. Whether it is on the reservation or not, we’ve all been scared before, we all go back to the dark, we’ve all told scary stories, ghost stories, we’ve all heard myths, and so what I wrote here is no different than anyone else would write, except coming through my eyes, with my objects and the things I’ve seen, that’s what makes it different. The message, the subtext, will come through depending on the objects you choose, depending on how you describe the place. If you go to the reservation, you would describe the canal completely differently because it’s your perspective, so a different truth would come out of it, different than the truths I showed here. One of the characters is based on somebody real, and if he were to tell the story it would come across very different, it wouldn’t look anything like this because it came through his eyes. Subtext comes from the individual person writing the story.

ODU Student Question: Did you intentionally make the motivations of the adults mysterious, because this is from the viewpoint of a child?
I don’t know if there is any other intention for me other to express that place, that night to you. But it is from the viewpoint of a child. I’m an adult now, and I happen to be a big chicken, and if I’m sleeping alone I leave all the lights on in the house, but I don’t believe in the Hooferman anymore. But as a kid I did, it was very real. However, now, as an adult, I see what the Hooferman really means, it’s more than a scary story. I mean, if you’ve ever been to a reservation, it’s more than teepees and people with long hair and a couple of drunks stumbling around and some wild dogs here and there. It has a lot in common with the inner-city, it is a microcosm, it has drugs and violence and all those things there. So the Hooferman still carries the same kind of darkness, but now I have a more adult, mature perspective and the Hooferman that I see everyday is a different kind of reality. But yeah, I tried to keep it in the child’s perspective, which led to some different editing because the adult version of me kept on wanting to jump in there and get on the soapbox, and tell everybody what I thought.

Student Question: Is subtext accidental?
I used to hate the word “organically,” when I was an undergrad here. I played basketball here and I probably didn’t take my classes as seriously as I should have [she laughs]. People used to use the word organically when I was taking this class [Intro to Creative Writing], and I’d hate it, but I think that’s the way subtext works. It comes about naturally, organically. It comes through the words that I’m choosing in description. And once you can see how you are describing things, then you start choosing and editing your descriptions to serve that subtext. You have to start specific, you have to start small – I always start with an object. What is this thing? What does it mean? And then you see where it will take you. For example, instead of going down the cul-de-sac to Wendell’s I could have gone the other way down to the river and told a different story. I could have talked about jumping off the bridge, I could have talked about a dead body we saw, the story could have been about a million different things. It’s just starting out and trusting your gut and what your own gut is going to show you, where it is going to take you. And then once you get into the story you’ll begin to know and you’ll make choices. That’s the thing I like about the 500 word exercise, is that you have to make every word, every image count. ‘He had a dog he said was part wolf,’ or ‘he had a dog that was part wolf’ – you try everything out.

Student Question: How do you develop character in your stories?
The first thing I ask about my characters, is what would they do in the extreme? Don’t be afraid to freewrite and play around with your characters. You don’t know what people are going to do until they do it. Put your characters in different situations. It’s like real life. I have no idea who any of you are. If I sit with you in this classroom and talk with you for an hour, then I’ll know you a bit better. Or if I met you for coffee, I’d know you in a different way. Or if I saw you out in the [night]club, then I’d know you in a different way. Give your characters a chance to be real. If you don’t know them, then we’ll never know them. We’ll only know what you show and tell us. Everyone likes to tell you, “I’m like this” – like if you are talking to somebody you are attracted to, they will tell you all these things about who they are and what they think – but none of that is ever true. You maybe start getting down to the real person in week two, and it’s the same thing with writing. You never know how somebody else really perceives themselves, because your perspective will always be different. But you can try to get to know people, and you need to do that with your characters. Try them out in different situations and see how they act.

Student Question: How do you write the transitions between action – how do you write the boring part where you are moving characters from one point to another?
Time and space is really important when it comes to that. The first instinct is to go big, or go home, but I learned from one of the best – Janet Peery – who said to keep your characters in the room. She said to start small. You’ll get that instinct for moving things, but in the beginning I’d recommend writing in one place and keep the story there. If you can develop tension, and reach the climax of a story in one place, you’ve done something pretty big. We all think on the novel level for some reason, but you need to start really small. Start with an object. This is how reading poetry can really help. By nature, poetry has to be small. Start with one scene, one action and then ask where they want to go and why they want to go there, and then you’ll know how to get them there. Like for “Hooferman,” I knew where I wanted to end so for me it was troubling to figure out how to move from Boy finding the leg to the house where the beating happened. I got off the hook a little bit here because this story works more like a poem, with paragraphs working almost like line breaks, like I left you with the image of Boy swinging at nighthawks and then we jumped to Wendell’s house. You decide what’s important, if nothing important happens, then you don’t write about it. It can happen in one sentence, in the way you end or start a paragraph. Go to your favorite books and stories and see how they do it. You’ll learn more from reading than you ever will from talking about it.

Student Question: How often do you revise, and how do you revise?
I probably don’t work as hard as I should. I revised “Hooferman” a lot. Sometimes it was just two words. I probably spent 10 revisions taking one word in and out, mostly because I really wanted this prize [The Tobias Wolff Award]. Now because I’m working on my book manuscript I’m revising things that I thought were done a long time ago. One of the most difficult things is cutting your own work. No matter how bad it is, it’s yours. And a lot of times you think its good, and it might be, it might be really good. But one of the most important things is cutting your own words, sentences, and pages. Write big, overwrite, and then cut it back. That is why you have peer editing, it is tough to look at your own work with your own eyes after a while. I end up using the same five words every time. There might be words that you overuse that you won’t see until somebody else circles it eight times on a page for you.

Student Question: When were you able to call yourself a writer?
I still don’t even say it. I have another job, almost by default – you need to pay the bills. I have a full time job that’s pretty stressful and time-consuming. It’s been almost six months since I wrote something new. I know that seems like “Oh, the horror of it – she’s a fake!” but then on my way here, by the time I got to my layover in Dallas-Fort Worth, I was like, “I’m free!” and didn’t have to worry about work and so started writing again. But for me, to start taking myself seriously was when it came when I gave myself time to write. But now that goes out the window since the first thing I wrote new in months was yesterday, the rest has all been revision. But it basically comes when you give yourself time to write, whether to revise or write something new. But I still don’t walk around saying I’m a writer. It wouldn’t mean anything on the reservation, or even with my family. They’d be like, “We don’t read, that doesn’t mean anything to us, I haven’t read a book in years!” [she laughs] So really, it is only in this environment that I am a writer.

Student Question: How did you build your vocabulary of descriptive words?
I have probably one of the most non-academic vocabularies. That is not the way we talk at home, that is not the way we learned to talk. In my culture, my language is based on descriptions, you wouldn’t say mud, dirt, dust, sand; you describe those things, it’s all one word with a bunch of descriptive words tacked onto it. So I grew up in a language that described things more. One of my favorite exercises is to take one word, even like the color red, and I write down as many objects or descriptions as I can. I have a poem that is all about the color red and I only use the word red once. I recently did it with bone, because bones come up in all my poems. So I did that with a skull. I do a lot of list poems, like what are all the different ways I can describe a skull? What are the things this could look like? Whether fiction or poetry, I just crack the whole thing open, like what could this thing, this word be besides what it is? And I just list them all and some of them don’t even make sense, and often those are the best ones. For me that’s my vocabulary builder. That and reading always builds your vocabulary. I didn’t read any Native writers until recently, but reading them is a whole different vocabulary. And Yusef Komunyakaa is amazing. Neon Vernacular is his vocabulary, coming from his world, his life, it’s the vocabulary of being a black man, in the military, the time he lived in. And Sherwin Bitsui is great. He’s a Native writer, and is kind of out there, not really linear, but he writes about the desert and a lot of that vocabulary will come with me in my writing. So reading is important. Sherman Alexie came here a few years back and he asked some aspiring writers who their favorite writers were and the students just blanked. If you want to be a writer, there should be your favorite writers that you know, that you can just rattle off like you list your favorite bands and songs. It should be like that with writing.

Student Question: Do you have a favorite poet?
Yeah, Borges. I like Spanish poets. He defies all the rules, and he writes fiction.

Perfectly Frank, ODU Village Shops

Later that day, I met with Natalie for lunch at a campus diner called Perfectly Frank. There, over cheeseburgers and beer, we continued our interview.

Does the language project – and the fact that you are now learning Mojave – influence your poetry or prose?
A lot of times in my writing, I’ll still resort to Spanish. I’ve always done that. It adds another layer of meaning, it’s important when you live in more than one layer of meaning. In my household a lot of Spanish is spoken and we grew up that way since my grandparents spoke Spanish. I think Mojave comes through more in my fiction. I’ve written a lot of fiction about the reservation, and now that I have enough distance from writing them, and now that I’m back at the reservation, I’m seeing things differently because I’m an adult. I was a child when I left, but now I can describe things as they really are, in the language, even if it’s just different things about the earth, or the mountains. Like, in Mojave, you don’t say “he’s walking,” you say how he’s walking. We are learning to express ourselves the way our grandparents did, it helps you understand a lot about things. Our language seems simple, but in that simplicity, you really have to know what you are talking about. There is no bullshitting in our language. You don’t waste a lot of words because there aren’t a lot of words to be wasted. Everything has a meaning, a place that goes with it. Its great for us, as a writer, but especially as a learner, because we are in the position where we are creating new words, words that our grandparents didn’t need, and their grandparents didn’t need, but if we want the language to survive we have to be able to use it everyday, saying what we want to say, so we’ll be creating words now.

So you’re filling linguistic gaps?
Yeah, it’s really fun. Sometimes when we do it our elders look at us like we are nuts, and they don’t like it, but it’s still pretty cool that we get to come up with a new word. Or they’ll say, ‘There’s no word for that,’ and we’ll say, ‘Well we want one, we need one.’ Sometimes they [the elders] will say, ‘No, you can’t say that,’ but we are going to end up saying it.

So it’s the difference between a living language and say, Latin.
Yeah, it evolves. It’s strange to think that I’m not using Mojave much in poetry, but it’s because I don’t want to have to be so concise in this language that I’m just learning. I want to say everything. Mojave feels a bit trapped in a poem, but in my fiction it works, because I really like setting, and now I can say what this plant is, and that tree. It’s not just willow, it’s ithou, it’s not just mesquite, it’s analy.

On the pure language, poetic level, on the level that words feel, smell, etc. – how do you feel using Mojave or Spanish in your writing changes your writing?
Language gives you more texture. Not that English becomes boring – all words have their own texture. You can equate it to cussing. If I sayjoder, it means so much more than damn or fuck. My friends in Europe will do that too. They’ll say “fuck,” and say it in English, because of the context they learned it in, it can mean more than their own curse words. Language can change the setting. In one of my poems, when someone talks in Spanish (because I like to have dialogue in my poems, I like to have people talking), suddenly the light changes, everything changes, so you are giving people two worlds. That’s how I felt growing up, and it’s not so drastic or strange, because if you live in those worlds, it’s normal, because you’re used to it, but a lot of writers don’t have that. It is my world, it’s my mom, it’s my dad – it’s Spanish, English, Mojave – it’s normal to us.

Do you write as much in scene in poetry, or more in summary?
I write more in scene. I think in scene. I mean, I like list poems too, and sometimes that’ll take me into a scene, but it usually doesn’t. It depends on what I’m writing about. Like if I’m writing about my brother, it’s usually scene, because if I’m in scene, I don’t have to be so philosophical. What can I say about my brother? If I knew what it was, I wouldn’t write about it, so all I can do is try to give you a picture. A peek. That’s the way I look at my poems. If you were to drive by my house and stop and peek through the window, that’s the sort of shit you would see, and that’s about the best way I can get you to knowing what it is. My writing is so mixed with fiction and non-fiction but the fiction gives the best picture of how it is to live in my family, but in fiction I can create a world where it makes sense.

Old Dominion Springhill Suites, Room 403

This final interview came about as we were “off the clock,” and my interviewing duties done. We were hanging out in her hotel room, watching Sports Center, checking e-mail, talking nonsense, when Natalie asked if I had anymore interview questions. We’d both initially been nervous about the prospect of an interview, thinking it would be an awkward exercise, but instead we were both hungry for more. Natalie and I have been friends for five years, but it is rare to ever have the chance to interview a friend – to find the excuse to talk deeply about craft and writing and life. I asked Natalie the ten questions popularized by James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio, which, as he in his pompous manner informs the audience were in turn popularized by the French TV host Bernard Pivot, and before that, Proust. We got through all the 10 questions except for the last one.

What is your favorite word?
Bone or red. I use those words the most in my writing. They can be so many different things, they force you to use different words to explore them – bone and red are like little word doors that open out into so many other words.

What is your least favorite word?
Moist (she shudders).

What is your favorite curse word?
Joder. It kind of means “fuck,” but it’s different. I say it all the time.Joder, Joder (she says, a grin on her face, drawing out the long “h” sound of the Spanish “j”).

What sound or noise do you love?
Dribbling a basketball on a wooden floor. There’s something so rhythmic in it, and in the sound of the ball skimming off the tips of your fingers. There is something so textural in both of those sounds.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Cupboards slamming. That’s not very interesting, but it’s the truth.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A massage therapist. The body is so amazing when you look at it just as a body – feeling muscle structure – everything is so smooth – the patterns (she is moving hands around at this point, sculpting a body out of the air). You can feel the patterns, and you have to be so meticulous, so in tune with every little part. Or a mechanic, but I don’t like getting my hands that dirty.

What profession would you not like to do?
Giving pedicures. Oh, and massage therapist. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve thought about it and touching that many bodies would gross me out. Hmm, I need a new occupation. . . (long pause) . . . I’d love to be a gospel singer. I love it – I love to sing along with gospel music, but I have to turn it up so high so that I can’t hear myself over the music. Gospel music gets such to the core of faith. There are so many of my friend’s churches around here that I used to go to just to hear the music. Even if you don’t believe in God, there is something so human and yet so extraordinary about Gospel music.

What turns you on, creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Possibilities. When there is not just one way to do something. Lots of options. I can get excited about projects where there can be lots of possibilities. If something doesn’t work you can go back and try something else, but you never have to start from the beginning, you can always just try new routes, new ways.

What turns you off?
People who want to change things, make a difference, but can only see one way of doing it and can’t open up to see another way of seeing. Like people categorize you as a Catholic or as an Indian or whatever and assume ways of being. I hate it when people have convinced themselves that they are open-minded and yet only see one right way of being. They tell you to fling open all the windows and doors, to open your mind, and then when you do, they tell you that you aren’t looking out the right windows. I pray before eating and some people get visibly upset when I do that, but it’s not something that I’m doing to them – praying is part of who I am. Along with that, people also need to stand up for what you believe in instead of being anti-everything and putting things into categories and instead of standing up for what you don’t believe in. People have all these different opinions on what they believe, or don’t believe, about Christianity, Gay Marriage, etc., and they need to stand up and be heard. Instead people worry about imposing themselves, about believing the wrong thing, they worry about offending people. We are all allowed to offend people–that is one of our greatest rights! We need to open our minds to things we don’t understand, and people that are close-minded can’t do that. Rilke reminds me of that – each of his poems is like a prayer, offered up to comprehend the incomprehensible. Writing is that way for me. I write about what I don’t understand. Things that make me not able to breathe when I wake up in the morning, things that wake me up at 3 a.m., that keep me pacing from room to room. I write to try to understand why we do the things we do. That’s why I like poetry, it stays so close to the questioning. In fiction you can get lost in the character, but in poetry, even narrative poetry, you still see the brickwork, you see the line breaks and stanzas and so it is more bare. In poetry I have a clearer understanding of what I don’t know – it’s a clearer representation of that.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
. . . . . . .

Natalie didn’t answer this question. She deferred at first and then the phone rang and other friends arrived and the moment was lost. Maybe the answer will be revealed in some future interview. Or maybe, instead, we are rightly left with Natalie seeking answers to the unanswerable; we are left with the answer of her poetry and prose. However, if I had to posit a guess, as a reader of Natalie Diaz’s poems and stories, I think one possible answer to this question may be found in the final words of “How to Love a Woman With No Legs.” I think Natalie might want to hear “Olly-olly-in-free,” and in that sound, hear the clamor of all her family and friends coming together.

If we follow Natalie’s advice to the Introduction of Creative Writing class on how to develop a character, these three interviews have now brought us to the nightclub-dancing phase of our acquaintance with Natalie. We know a little about how she perceives herself, and her craft, and how she sees the world. But there is so much more that does not come across in these interviews, so much more that I, as her friend, have yet to learn. There is so much that an interview can’t do. Really, to understand Natalie Diaz, to know her quality and character as a writer, as Mojave and Pima, as a basketball player, as a language project director, as a daughter and sister and granddaughter, as a friend, as a woman – to know Natalie as a human – we need only to read her stories and poems, and in them we will learn not just about her, but we will also learn about ourselves. That is what she gives us through her words.

Also in this issue, a short story by Natalie Diaz:
How to Love a Woman with No Legs

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Andrea J. Nolan is the author of Sea Kayaking Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and Sea Kayaking Virginia, both published by Countryman Press. She graduated from Old Dominion University’s MFA program in May 2009, and has fiction and essays published and forthcoming in journals such as Flyway, Dogwood, Alligator Jumper, and the Potomac Review, and her essay “Edges” was acknowledged as a “Notable Essay” in Best American Essays 2009, edited by Mary Oliver. Ms. Nolan teaches at Old Dominion University.