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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

Miranda explores Native American heritage
through poetry

TEACHER AND POET: Dr. Deborah Miranda talks with students in her J-Term course. She specializes in ethnic and women’s literature.

By Katherine Hedland '88

Deborah Miranda knew she had words to
put down on paper, tales to tell. It was during the quiet of her babies' slumber that she discovered that her medium was poetry, and that the stories she felt compelled to share were her own.

"My first love was fiction, but I was writing during naptime and didn't have time to write a whole story," said Miranda, an assistant professor of English at PLU. "I started focusing on different chunks, and that's how I became a poet."

Some of those works are included in "Indian Cartography," Miranda's collection that won the 1997 North American Native Authors Poetry Award. As Miranda pursued her writing, she also drew strength from reaching out to other Native Americans through what are often common experiences.

"My life has been an embodiment of separation, division, reconciliation, and loss. I am Indian: I am mixed blood: I am Indian," she writes in her introduction.

Miranda, whose late mother was white and whose father's family comes from the Esselen and Chumash, both small California tribes, has become a powerful voice among Native American and women writers.

After teaching part-time at PLU while she was pursuing her doctorate in English at the University of Washington, she was hired as an assistant professor in the fall. She specializes in women's literature, Native American and ethnic literature and creative writing. She lives in Tacoma and shares parenting of Miranda, 14, and Danny, 12, with her ex-husband.

There has been a renaissance of Native American writers since the '70s, she says, but women have only made their mark in the last several years. She believes women writers, while focusing on the history and the past, also have a tendency to be more celebrational, humanistic and compassionate.

"It's much more hopeful," she said. "It doesn't stop looking at the history and the injustices, but it's more constructive."

She has dealt with many of the problems commonly associated with Native Americans: poverty, family dysfunction, abuse, alcohol, loss of culture. But she wants to end the "intergenerational dysfunction," and reaching out with her writing is one step.
"I've had experiences that I'm capable of writing about that will empower other women," she said.

Her own words are often painful: poems depicting a 7-year-old girl's molestation by her mother's boyfriend, a 13-year-old having her long black hair set on fire by a schoolmate who called her, "Squaw," a wife and mother still trying to make sense of it all. But they are also hopeful, as in this excerpt from "Three Poems for April" :

"Buried in the past I came from -
violation, fear, a distrust
of the body - waits
a season I will claim
as my own sweet time."

When one of Miranda's sisters brought her book to work, she called later to say that readers were overcome with emotion at reading what they saw as their own stories. "I was able to see that this does promote healing, "Miranda said. "And that was a real magical moment for me."

Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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