In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Simon Ortiz

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Autobiographies and Biographies
  • Influence
  • Cultural Materials
  • Pedagogical Materials

American Literature Simon Ortiz
Elizabeth Archuleta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0202


Simon Joseph Ortiz was born in 1941 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and raised at Acoma Pueblo. He has spent much of his life traveling, witnessing, and writing about the world around him. His observations about and his place in the world as an indigenous person would shape his writing on language, education, colonization, and the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples worldwide. While attending a Bureau of Indian Affairs day school, he learned English as a second language and would later focus on the way language shaped his worldview. Later, he attended several educational institutions, including Saint Catherine’s Indian School in Santa Fe, Albuquerque Indian School, Fort Lewis College (1962–1963), the University of New Mexico (1966–1968), and the University of Iowa (1968–1969). These institutions informed his views on the legacies of boarding school and how they affected generations of indigenous peoples. Having served three years in the army (1963–1966) and holding several teaching positions—San Diego State (1974), the Institute of American Indian Arts (1974), Navajo Community College (1975–1977), the College of Marin (1976–1979), the University of New Mexico, Sinte Gleska College, the University of Toronto, and Arizona State University, where he retired as a Regents’ Professor of English and American Indian Studies—Ortiz’s perspectives expanded beyond New Mexico and the Southwest. His thoughts on traveling, shaped by Pueblo cosmology, and his chance encounters with American Indians focused his attention on indigenous peoples’ persistence despite centuries of colonization. His growing global perspective as well as events connected to the Red Power movement and his involvement in the National Indian Youth Council also influenced his writing. The death of Navajo activist Larry Casuse in Gallup, New Mexico, in 1973 at the hands of the police undoubtedly moved Ortiz to write some of his most powerful and influential work, and issues that fueled indigenous activism nationally and globally are interwoven throughout his writing. Racism, poverty, the exploitation of indigenous lands and peoples, and tribal sovereignty appear prominently in his work, but woven into these legacies of colonization are also stories of survival. His children’s books carry messages of hope, because indigenous peoples’ ultimate survival lay in the hands of children. As a whole, Ortiz’s work presents a message of hope, triumph, and survival in spite of more than five hundred years of attempts to mold American Indians into US citizens. Ultimately, his work exemplifies political and cultural resurgence, documenting indigenous peoples’ survival, as stated in his poem “Survival This Way.”

General Overviews

Ortiz’s literary influence spans the globe. In recognition of his many achievements and the importance of his work, Ortiz has been acknowledged in more-formal ways. He has received numerous awards, including the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, the New Mexico Humanities Council Humanitarian Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Discovery Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Returning the Gift Festival of Native Writers, a Pushcart Prize for Poetry for From Sand Creek, an honorary doctor of letters from the University of New Mexico, and a 2013 Golden Tibetan Antelope International Prize, and he was an Honored Poet at the 1981 White House Salute to Poetry. In spite of Ortiz’s prominence and recognition, no full-length comprehensive study of his work exists. The journal Studies in American Indian Literature (Kroeber 1984 and Brill de Ramírez 2004) devoted two special issues to his writing. Brill de Ramírez and Lucero 2009 presents useful overviews of his life, influence, and critical perspectives of his work. This section should be of great interest to scholars and graduate students interested in Ortiz, because it contains a detailed and comprehensive list of Ortiz’s publications, an annotated listing of secondary sources, and a full-length biography on Ortiz.

  • Brill de Ramírez, Susan Berry, ed. Special Issue: In Honor of Simon Ortiz. Studies in American Indian Literature 16.4 (2004).

    Special issue includes personal reflections that reveal Ortiz’s wide-ranging influence and connection with more-modern scholars and writers.

  • Brill de Ramírez, Susan Berry, and Evelina Zuni Lucero, eds. Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.

    Excellent introduction to Ortiz’s life and his role and influence in the development of Native American literatures. Includes autobiographical essays, interviews, personal responses, and critical essays organized into three sections.

  • Kroeber, Karl, ed. Special Issue: Simon Ortiz. Studies in American Indian Literature 8.3–4 (1984).

    The only journal that focuses on American Indian literature. Special issue includes personal reflections that reveal Ortiz’s wide-ranging influence and connection with other scholars and writers from an earlier period.

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