Simon Ortiz: Real Writing

rdurborowRobert Durborow
Student Advisor, 2014-2016
Pi Omega Chapter
Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY

My first impression of Simon Ortiz at the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta Annual Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can be summed up in a single word: real. What I mean is the man is genuine, has an opinion and character, and shows these qualities in what he writes, how he lives, and how he interacts with others, particularly in the literary field. He is real, and so is his writing.

I was honored to host Mr. Ortiz for the aforementioned event, and so had the opportunity to spend significant time with him. It was an absolute honor and privilege. Simon refers to himself and his people as “indigenous people,” rather than “Native American” or “Indian,” both somewhat derogatory appellations. What Simon means in using the term indigenous is simply that his people were already here when the rest of the world arrived. The word is real, and describes exactly who and what Simon and his people are. Perhaps you begin to understand why, like Simon, I choose my descriptive word very carefully and call him real.

Simon’s writing is no less real than the writer himself. His poetry and short stories speak in honest words about actual situations and experiences. The Common Reader for this year’s Sigma Tau Delta convention, From Sand Creek, is a book of Simon’s poetry which examines the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. As Simon read from and discussed these poems, his quiet, powerful words filled the vast ballroom in such a powerful manner, every ear listened with eager intent. I have been to many entertaining literary events, but never one quite as engaging and meaningful as Simon’s. The ring of truth in his carefully composed verse is completely inescapable and cannot help but change the reader . . . or the listener. He can lay you bare to the bone and sew you up in the next sentence. That takes rather significant writing skill.

Simon Ortiz and Robert Durborow

Simon did not speak too much about his writing process, except to say that all of his writing derives from life experience and his personal culture. His reading and address, even his answers to audience questions, were carefully considered and well spoken. “Words have power,” he said, “use them on purpose and use them wisely.” These few syllables, so carefully crafted, have great power and it is nigh on impossible to dispute them.

Simon delivered his address and reading simultaneously and so seamlessly I could not distinguish between the address and his poetry and short stories. What this shows me, as a writer, is that Simon is always in the story (or poem). “I write to tell people what I know,” Simon told me at his book signing, “I tell stories, and there are always new ones.” I can think of no better reason to write. Simon agrees. He told me that some people write to entertain or for fun, but he is not one of those. Simon writes because he has something important to say that people need to hear. That is why I write as well. No wonder we got on so well.

The theme of this year’s Sigma Tau Delta convention was “Borderlands and Enchantments.” Simon Ortiz comes from The Land of Enchantment, and knows a thing or two about borders, physical, philosophical, and political. Simon bridges those borders through the written word, predominately through poetry. His words draw two very different worlds closer together, have done so for decades, and promise to continue the journey for some time to come. Would that we could all write in such an utterly real fashion. The world would become the better place Simon and I believe it can be.

Sigma Tau Delta 2016 Convention, March 2-5, Minneapolis, MN
Featured Speakers


Throwing a Birthday Party for the Bard

Amber JurgensenAmber Jurgensen
Southern Region Student Representative
Rho Gamma Chapter
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA

On April 23, Louisiana Tech University’s Rho Gamma Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta gathered at the Shakespeare garden in the Liberal Arts building for our biggest event of the year: the ninth annual birthday festival to celebrate the life and works of the Bard. Faculty members from the English, Theater, and History departments took the stage to commemorate William Shakespeare’s 451st birthday with presentations of the author’s many literary creations. Students read a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud throughout the day in English, French, and even Elvish.

Students in the Shakespeare Garden

Students in the Shakespeare Garden

One of my favorite parts of the festival is how it connects Louisiana Tech University to the city of Ruston itself. Local high school students join us to celebrate the birth of one of the most influential men in the literary canon. This year, students were treated to an original one-act play entitled “The First Folio,” along with original sonnets written and performed by current Tech students. Sigma Tau Delta chapter members also provided cupcakes (made with their very own hands)—it was a birthday celebration, after all!

This festival illustrates Shakespeare’s lasting influence on modern life. His works permeate every facet of today’s entertainment industry, revealing themselves in literature, music, movies, and television. One of my favorite presentations, “A Trekkie by Another Name is Still a Trekkie,” explored the vast influence of Shakespeare on the Star Trek television series and movies, from the original show to Star Trek: The Next Generation. The discussion ended with a birthday wish for Shakespeare—delivered in perfect Klingon.

Another highlight of the day was the Theater vs. English trivia contest, in which students from both departments competed to see who possessed the most Shakespearian knowledge. This year, the competitors guessed the name of a play from a limerick describing the plot. A tiebreaker proved necessary, and each contestant was given five minutes to compose his/her own limerick. Based on audience approval, the English department was deemed the victor.

Globe Theatre

Globe Theatre

The day’s final presentation was much more personal, as I joined with my fellow participants in the 2014 Tech London Study Abroad trip to share our own experiences with Shakespeare in the city in which his plays came to life. We reminisced about our journeys to Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre and recalled our experience as groundlings at Titus Andronicus. I found it a fitting end to a day that celebrated the lasting influence of William Shakespeare’s literary genius.

Did you or your chapter celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday this year? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Sigma Tau Delta Resources for Chapter Planning

What Do You Plan To Do With An English Degree?

Shelly RomeroShelly Romero
Midwestern Region Student Representative
Alpha Epsilon Eta Chapter
Stephens College, Columbia, MO

One of the biggest questions English majors always face is, “What are you planning to do with that degree?” From family dinners to meeting new people, even fellow peers, it’s a question that feels daunting, but it does make you wonder. What am I to do with my degree?

It’s a question that I faced when I first arrived at Stephens College as a freshman in the fall of 2013. I always answered with a cheery, “Everything. I want to do everything I can with my degree.” That’s the beauty of being an English major; the possibilities and opportunities are endless.

In the words of the omnipotent Dragon from John Gardner’s Grendel, “Find your gold and sit on it.” In other words, ask yourself: “What interests me? What do I love? Why did I choose English in the first place?”

Harbinger coverIn the beginning of my college career, I didn’t know what career path to choose. I was interested in everything and took various classes including Scriptwriting and a Poetry and Fiction Workshop, but it wasn’t until I joined the staff of Harbinger, our literary journal, that I found my passion for editing. I realized I wanted to find, to edit, and publish, the next great American novel, not write it.

In college, you have four incredible years to learn, grow, and discover where you want to go after graduation. You don’t have to decide as soon as you arrive on campus. Take different classes that fit your interests, participate in workshops, even take an acting class. (John Hamm from Mad Men graduated with a BA in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia.)

Being an English major means having a flexible degree, one that can open up and spread over various fields, research areas, and careers. All you have to do is find your interests, write down your dream goals, and pursue them.

If you’ve already found your niche, comment below on what your focus as an English major is and how you came to that decision.