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Apr 1, 2016

Acts of optimism: Karenne Wood on language, silence, and healing



by Elizabeth Hoover | Photo by University Marketing

Karenne Wood reads at JMU, fall 2015

In her poetry, scholarship, and activism, Karenne Wood chips away at persistent misconceptions about Native American history and culture.

Many of the poems in her second collection, Weaving the Boundary, tell stories of Native people who played important roles in American history but remain unknown to most readers—or are known only by their stereotyped portrayals. By telling these stories Wood challenges readers to reconsider and reimagine our communal history and, by extension, our present.

She writes, “Nothing was discovered / Everything was already loved.”

For Wood, reconciliation begins with the act of naming: of naming what has been left out of the historical record and, when those names can not be recovered, making us aware of those erasures. She writes, “Some of us will be silenced. / Some will wake less ashamed. Some may rise / without wings to name what injures us.”

The act of recovery that is so integral to Wood’s poetry is also at the center of her activism and scholarship. As a member of the Monacan Indiana Nation’s tribal council, she has been lobbying to obtain federal recognition for the Monacans and five other tribes. As a PhD candidate in linguistic anthropology at the University of Virginia, she worked to revitalize an ancestral language of the Monacan Indians.

She is the Director of the Virginia Indian Programs at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. In 2015, she was named one of Virginia’s Women in History by the Library of Virginia. Her first book of poetry, Markings on Earth, won the 2000 Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award.

In this three-part interview with The Fight & the Fiddle editor Elizabeth Hoover, Wood discusses the relationship between her scholarship and poetry, the importance of silence in her work and in native culture, and how she challenges stereotypes.

Revitalizing Language | Wood describes how her work revitalizing an ancestral language changed the way she approaches her poetry, explains why she uses phrases from Native languages in her poems, and talks about the unexpected effect that her poetry has had on her readers.

Not Your Disney’s Pocahontas | Wood discusses her optimism about poetry’s ability to add depth to our understanding of history, her approach to lineation, and why she chose to end her book with silence.

Rewriting the “Great Indian Novel” | Wood describes the expectations placed on her as a woman and Native writer and how she resists stereotypes by grounding her storytelling in particular historical cultural contexts.

 See more about Karenne Wood's visit to James Madison University in 2015.