Voices of Bettering American Poetry 2015 — Tanaya Winder

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter? 


I breathe. I run outside along the creek with foot to pavement, on dirt, and mother Earth to remind myself that I am but a small human on this Earth that needs protecting. When my hurt or problems or difficulties feel so immense, I run, I cook food, I meditate, and I take care of myself physically, emotionally, and mentally because I know that we can’t take care of others until we first take care of ourselves. I try to practice these acts daily because I write to reflect the world I exist in.  Because, most of what I write about is difficult subject matter because the lives we live in the brown bodies we exist in is difficult. It’s difficult trying to exist in a settler colonial country where systemic processes are set up to see you fail. For the sake of our survival, we must practice self-care daily when we write our hearts onto the page and then live with those hearts outside of our bodies so that the ones we write for can see that healing is possible.

What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too intense or upsetting?

I’d say that my writing isn’t for them. Anyone who thinks my writing is too upsetting or too intense isn’t whom I’m writing for. The way our people are treated in this country is upsetting and as a poet I do my utmost best to be the necessary mirror into what we need to heal. I write for people who know that healing comes from work, that our ancestral traumas and historical hurts were all ruptures that require their own breaking to come together in light. Life is intense. Love is intense. I write for those who understand that Love can be a gun, for those of us who have pulled the trigger or had it pulled on us; for those who believe our hearts are stray bullets we keep trying to call back. If some folks can’t understand or handle that then the writing and art practice isn’t meant for them. I think that’s the hardest thing for the establishment and maybe academia or privileged writers to understand–not everything is meant for them. We have to keep some things for ourselves.


What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Best writing advice I ever received was from my mentors. Cherrie Moraga always told me, “The writing always knows better than you.” And Joy Harjo, her advice wasn’t so much the things she said, but how she continues to live her life–by continually practically any and all art forms she’s drawn to. My advice…You have a purpose. You are unique. You have a gift. You owe it to those gifts to share them with those in your circle of influence. If your gift is writing (if writing is what called you) then write. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t write about. You have a body. You have a voice. You have a story. Each person’s story is worth telling. You are worthy. You are enough.  


13614982_10102401307587143_2715601180478214266_n-1TANAYA WINDER is a writer, educator, motivational speaker, and performance poet from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. She grew up on the Southern Ute Indian reservation and attended college at Stanford University where she earned a BA in English and the University of New Mexico where she received an MFA in creative writing. Since then she has co-founded As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and founded Dream Warriors, an Indigenous artist management company. She guest lectures, teaches creative writing workshops, and speaks at high schools, universities, and communities internationally. Tanaya writes and teaches about different expressions of love (self love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love); she is an advocate of heartwork and believes everyone has a gift they’ve been placed on this earth to share.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry 2015. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for the anthology. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.