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Indian Country Today

Diné author’s story collection weaves heritage, identity

By Grace Benally,


Grace Benally
Special to ICT

In a literary endeavor that intertwines gritty reality with imagination, Stacie Denetsosie , a compelling voice from the Navajo Nation, unveiled her debut book, "The Missing Morningstar."

Through a series of poignant and thought-provoking narratives, Denetsosie dives into the impacts of settler-colonialism on Indigenous lives, exposing both the scars of complex history and the enduring legacy of beauty, tradition, and storytelling.

As a proud citizen of the Navajo Nation from the Bitterwater Clan (Todích'íí'nii) and born for the Mexican Clan (Naakaii), Denetsosie has etched her journey from the terrains of Kayenta, Arizona, to the pages of modern Indigenous literature.

Born and raised in the heart of Kayenta, Denetsosie's connection to her roots serves as the compass of her storytelling.

Currently residing in Northern Utah, she stands as a bridge between the landscapes of her homeland and the contemporary world she inhabits.

This mix of cultures, colors and echoes of ages past infuses her work with a distinct vibrancy.

Denetsosie paints a vivid tapestry of emotions, taking readers on a journey through the lives of her characters as they navigate a world where the past and present fuse in unpredictable ways.

Within writing about the experiences of living on the reservation, Denetsosie made it a priority to represent the Navajo experience accurately.

“I've heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, what's on the reservation? It's not beautiful out there.’ And that's one thing that I want to capture in my collection is that the reservation is beautiful,” Denetsosie told ICT. “And I really wanted to put in there my love for the land.”

Whether it's a young Navajo man's unsettling encounter with his grandfather's casket, a gas station clerk entwined in the mystery of a kidnapped beauty queen, or a couple's quest to unravel the complexities of blood quantum in their pursuit of parenthood, Denetsosie's narratives resonate with the struggles and triumphs of a vibrant community.

From returning home to Kayenta after an eight-hour drive at a young age, Denetsosie would remember the times she spent with family and traveling to what she called “home.”

She found it was no surprise that her collection of stories focused on Navajo characters making a journey home, whether it be Kayenta or Tuba.

“For them (the characters), I just wanted to convey the amount of time that they spend thinking because when you're on your way home, you can only think about what's going to happen when you get there. Or the politics going on in your family right now? How are you going to handle this?”

Denetsosie relies on her memories and landscape to help shape her writing.

“When an Indigenous person returns to home it is usually to reconnect to their cultural traditions and values,” Denetsosie said.

Diné author Stacie Denetsosie’s new book illustrates the power of storytelling to reshape past narratives and embrace the Diné tradition. (Photo courtesy of Grace Benally)

Within her past work in short stories and poems , she consistently uses landscapes including plants, geologic formations and sand to illustrate the change her characters endure when rejecting colonialism.

The importance of landscape is embedded within Navajo teachings, making it inseparable from the characters she creates, such as the Bashas’ grocery store that sits on the US-160 or the pizza joint that’s in the same plaza.

Denetsosie wanted to capture the surroundings of Kayenta within her stories so that her readers know and understand the same spots that she experienced when she was younger.

“I really wanted to put in these little Easter eggs... I want to include all these things that I felt like were so special, and like essential to my development growing up,” she said.

Her passion for storytelling has gone far from her childhood of traveling back and forth with her aunt to Tuscon, asking her to tell her stories to pass the time, until her aunt asked her to tell a story instead.

“I told her a story about a glow worm and a horned toad, and I think that's one of the key moments that sticks out is just me always asking everyone to tell a story and telling their story.”

Memories from when she would tell stories to her family furthered her inspiration for writing stories and poems for a wider audience, who aren’t all Indigenous.

While Denetsosie's compelling narratives resonate deeply with her Indigenous audience, her stories possess a universal quality that intersects cultural boundaries.

Beyond the Indigenous perspective, her writings offer a moving exploration of human experiences, inviting readers from diverse backgrounds to engage with the intricate story of emotion, heritage and identity.

“Either way I just like that people are reading my story,” she said.

Denetsosie's stories serve as a bridge that connects hearts, enabling a broader readership to appreciate and connect with the essence of her narratives.

Drawing inspiration from a constellation of authors including Joy Harjo , Louise Erdrich , Tommy Orange , Therese Mailhot , Kristiana Kahakauwila , and even Sherman Alexie , Denetsosie's creative journey is inspired by the storytellers who have shaped Indigenous literature.

While condemning the actions of Alexie, Denetsosie acknowledges his storytelling prowess, which stirred her as a youth to transcribe her experiences and uncover truths within them.

“I long to add my voice to theirs and engage in this critical work of rewriting stereotypes and reclaiming narratives.”

Embracing the resonant blend of heartbreaking humor in Alexie's narratives, Denetsosie is fueled by her aspiration to write.

Denetsosie finds her narrative emerging—a testament that she, the offspring of a non-reading parent, can indeed claim her place among the literary tapestry as a writer whose words resonate across diverse backgrounds.

More info

Stacie Denetsosie's debut collection, "The Missing Morningstar and Other Stories," will be released on September 19th. The book is currently available for pre-order . Dive deeper into Denetsosie's storytelling by exploring her portfolio , where visitors can stay updated on her upcoming projects. Follow Stacie on Instagram @ navajodarling .

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