Luci Tapahonso, recipient of NM Writers grant

From Pasatiempo (Santa Fe), Written by Molly Boyle and Patricia Lenihan

Three years ago, Tesuque-based author James McGrath Morris realized that talented individuals all over Santa Fe were spending an awful lot of time by themselves. They needed to — they were writers, toiling indoors over books, essays, and poems — but Morris thought it might be a good idea for them to go out every once in a while. Thus was born the New Mexico Writers Dinner, now held annually at La Fonda to bring writers together and to raise funds for aspiring authors.

“I thought that all these writers don’t know each other in town,” Morris said. “And I thought if we were going to do it over a meal, we should raise money. This being one of the poorest states in the union, there are a lot of writers who can use some help.” The third annual New Mexico Writers Dinner on Thursday, March 28, honors the first two grant recipients of the organization, which is a nonprofit operating under the sponsorship of the New Mexico Community Foundation. The recipients are a children’s book author and a poet, each of whom will receive funding for their works in progress.

The more than 150 attendees include local luminaries Anne Hillerman, David Morrell, Douglas Preston, and Hampton Sides, as well as librarians, booksellers, editors, and other members of the local literary community.

“The idea of coming together once a year in a very visible way is a reminder to the community of the economic importance of writing. I mean, the people who are successful writers here, their money stays here,” Morris said. New initiatives include a travel grant sponsored by Preston. “Say a Navajo writer wanted to write about Canyon de Chelly. So one of the places you might go is the Center for Southwest Research in Albuquerque. For me, it’s an $8 train ride, no big deal. But for them to go from Shiprock or someplace like that is a big deal, so we’re going to have money set aside for their Motel 6, their photocopying costs. A small amount of money can make a world of difference.”

The evening begins with a cocktail hour for established and up-and-coming writers to network and mingle. Luci Tapahonso, the inaugural poet laureate of the Navajo Nation (2013) and professor emerita of English literature at the University of New Mexico, gives the keynote address. In stories and verse, Tapahonso combines tradition with poetic dexterity and finds ancestral echoes in ordinary life.

Among the author’s works is A Radiant Curve, which includes “Hills Brothers Coffee,” one of her most popular poems. It uses an approach that she often employs in varying ways: Navajo syntax with English words. Born on the reservation in Shiprock, Tapahonso’s work addresses modernity and Navajo tradition, looking to various forms as a way to express the holy and spiritual in everyday experience. Tapahonso has taught poetry writing and American and Navajo literature, and encourages creative writing students to learn European poetic forms such as the sestina, the sonnet, and the villanelle, as well as to mine family stories, the Diné language, and folklore. She lives in Santa Fe with her husband Robert G. Martin (Cherokee), president of the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Tickets to the dinner, which begins at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, are $80; see nmwriters.org/dinner.html or call 505-469-5273.