Natalie Diaz is making history as the first Latina woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her work titled Postcolonial Love Poem. This collection of poems speaks to the erasure of Indigenous peoples and their land — and the emotions that come with this reality. She is only the second Latino ever to win the esteemed award, following William Carlos Williams’ nab in 1963. This achievement is another notch on Diaz’s award-winning belt, as her debut collection in 2012, When My Brother was an Aztec, earned her an American Book Award.
The half Mexican, half Native American poet has long credited her village as the inspiration behind her work. Diaz was born and raised in Needles, California, in the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Village. She first made her mark in her village — but on the basketball court. In high school, she was named Arizona player of the year in 1996 as a senior. She would go on to earn a scholarship to play at Division I Old Dominion University. Diaz led her team to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in her freshman year. An injury sidelined Diaz after playing professionally overseas, and that’s when she resumed her academics and obtained her master’s degree in fine arts.
This week, Diaz celebrated her win by sharing the extent to which her community supports her work. She wrote on Twitter, “We don’t have bookstores where I come from. We don’t even have a grocery store. So my tiny 120 degree desert town is selling my Pulitzer Prize poetry book at our Dollar Stores (we have 3) & Liquor stores (we have several). Maybe this is the most “poetry” poetry can be & where.”
In addition to joining a renowned list with notable poets like Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg, Diaz will collect a $15,000 prize. She is currently an associate professor of English at Arizona State University, where she holds the chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry.