When poet Natalie Diaz sat down for a Q&A with students of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House Wednesday, the conversation inevitably turned to family.

This created a culture of intimate discussion, a break from the typical distance among individuals from different cultural backgrounds.  

The topic is central to her debut collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, released in 2012.

Diaz’s collection is a public release of personal poems.

“Something that’s been very uncomfortable when I wrote this book is that my mother, I think, feels very guilty,” Diaz said. “But what I realized was happening was that everyone in my family was seeing that part of themselves that they have trouble coming to terms with.”

Diaz’s poetry draws heavily from her Mojave culture, weaving stories of broken bonds and love through the eyes of someone coping with a brother who has a drug addiction.

On stage, her nuanced tone and frequent pauses created a disjointed rhythm.

Halfway through her reading, Diaz played a snippet of  “Thunderstuck,” by AC/DC from her cell phone, acknowledging that her college-aged audience might not recognize it from the title.

“Now that you’ve heard that, we can continue,” she said before reading her poem “Mustang in which the song is referenced.

Although a seemingly lighthearted interjection, the use of the song served a purpose.

Diaz took a personal memory and made it relatable. Similarly, although her poetry originates from an intensely personal place, readers can find a bit of themselves through her family narrative.

Christine Schutt, author of three novels and two collections of stories, took the stage next. She read two of her short stories, each offering insight into the dysfunction and confusion of human emotion. Schutt was once a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Fiction writer, Christine Schutt, at the Writers Here and Now event at Tawes Hall. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Fiction writer, Christine Schutt, at the Writers Here and Now event at Tawes Hall. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

The first story, “Burst Pods, Gone-By, Tangled Aster,” followed a deteriorating marriage and the loss of a child causing a mother’s inner turmoil.

These themes and tones juxtaposed with Schutt’s style of writing created a flowing lyricism that read almost like poetry. Her passion for her craft shined through in the way she read, instilling life into her characters and creating conflict through dialogue.

“She was very personable,” said Clare Sarsony, a sophomore psychology major and member of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House.
“She put the idea of suffering into a new perspective,” Sarsony said. “She took tough issues and made them seem less intimidating to write about— like I could tackle them in my own writing.”

Featured Photo Credit: Natalie Diaz during a Q&A session before her Writers Here and Now reading at Tawes Recital Hall. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

Jessica Cooper is a sophomore communication major. She can be reached atcooperjessica96@gmail.com.

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