Editorial: Young Shiprock poet shines in D.C. spotlight - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Young Shiprock poet shines in D.C. spotlight

It’s a long way from Shiprock to Washington, D.C.

Jesse Begay got there on the wings of their own words. (Note: Begay’s pronouns are they/them)

Begay, a student at the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, wrote a poem about life on the Navajo reservation where Begay was born and raised.

“Land of Healing” won a Gold Key Award and the New Mexico State New York Life Award. The recognition qualified Begay for consideration to become a National Student Poet.

The National Student Poets Program honors five young poets annually for their original writing and dedication to the craft. Begay earned one of the five honors out of a pool of 22,000 submissions. On Sept. 27 the five National Student Poets got to read their poems at a White House reading hosted by Jill Biden.

As described by the Journal’s Carl Knauf, Begay’s winning work, “Land of Healing,” addresses suicide, the relationships affected by the act, and the whirlwind of adjoining emotions and repercussions across the Navajo reservation. Derived from personal experience with a cold setting to match the tone, Begay shared it was initially a grief poem, but after reviewing the circumstances and reaction to the situation, it became an angry poem.

“There’s a lot of talk about tourism, trading posts, non-Native people who come onto the reservation, as rare as it is, and modify the experiences. … That was what the end result ending up coming out as,” Begay told the Journal.

Each of the five selectees represents a region of the country and serves as a voice for change, bringing poetry into their communities through service projects such as readings, workshops and festivals. Not only is Begay an ambassador to the Southwest region, they have been awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship.

“We’re not just celebrating poetry,” Ada Limón, the 24th poet laureate of the United States, said. “We’re celebrating the future of poetry.”

We’re proud someone as young as the teenage Begay is already carrying on New Mexico’s rich literary tradition and bringing attention to the often overlooked Indigenous experience.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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