The Poetics & Politics of Water

“The Poetics and Politics of Water” was a project organized at the University of Arizona by Professor Larry Evers and Regents Professor Ofelia Zepeda during the spring semester 2015.  The project included a series of four public readings, a public discussion of cultural, historical, and legal issues associated with water in American Indian communities, and an interdisciplinary graduate seminar.

The Seminar

“The Poetics and Politics of Water in Contemporary American Indian Literature,” AIS/ENGL 596M, was the graduate seminar associated with the project.  The seminar included 14 graduate students with a wide range of interdisciplinary interests and from a number of graduate degree programs including American Indian Studies, English and American Literature, Creative Writing, Linguistics, and Library & Information Science.   Graduate students helped to host the visiting writers, to prepare materials to promote in-depth consideration of their work in relation to the seminar topic, and contributed significantly to this web site that makes available some results of the project.

Graduate students who registered for the seminar were Taneum Bambrick (Creative Writing), Maya Bernadett (American Indian Studies), Page Buono (Creative Writing), Paco Cantu (Creative Writing), Ian Ellasante (American Indian Studies), Jacqueline Faulk (Literature), Joyce Hughes (Linquistics), Sean Omera (American Indian Studies), Kari Quiballo (American Indian Studies), Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan (American Indian Studies), Mary Stoecklein (American Indian Studies), Christina Whitworth (Literature), Mary Cathleen Wilson (American Indian Studies), and Ofelia Elizabeth Zepeda (Library and Information Science).

Three others participated in the seminar.  Alexis Kopkowski, a graduate student in American Indian Studies, and Xiaochen Sun, a graduate student from China studying American Indian Studies, served as assistants to the seminar leaders.  Dalia Ebeid, a Fulbright scholar from Cairo University, also participated in the seminar.

The seminar conducted two field trips.  The first was on February 5 when we met in the library at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, a National Historical Landmark,  and talked with Paul Mirocha, Tumamoc Artist-In-Residence, about water use and aesthetics among early indigenous residents on Tumamoc.  The second was on April 23, when we travelled to Tohono O’odham Community College, Sells, AZ, where we enjoyed an exchange of ideas regarding Tohono O’odham perspectives on climate change and sustainability projects with faculty member Dr. Casey Kahn-Thornbrugh, Richard Pablo, and other staff and students.  While at TOCC, we provided outreach information on several programs for potential transfer students to the U of A.

The Reading Series

 “The Poetics and Politics of Water,” the public reading series, featured Sherwin Bitsui (February 12), Simon J. Ortiz (February 26), Ofelia Zepeda (March 12), and Natalie Diaz (April 2).   The readings were held at the University of Arizona Poetry Center on Thursday evenings, 7-8:30 pm.  Each of the four poets attracted overflow audiences.  Statistics provided by the Poetry Center document that a total of 655 audience members, which included a wide demographic mix, attended the four readings.  Videotaped recordings of all the reading in the series are available at the University Poetry Center and may be accessed from this web site. 

The Public Discussion:  “As True as Rain to the Sea

Finally, working with the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, we sponsored “As True as Rain to the Sea: a discussion of the Poetics and Politics of Water,” an exploration of cultural, historical, and legal issues related to water in American Indian communities.  This discussion was hosted by Robert Hershey and was held at the Poetry Center on April 15 from 7-9:00 pm.  It featured James Anaya, Regents’ Professor, Human Rights, Law, and Policy, Rogers College of Law;  Jim Enote, Director, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni Pueblo; and Charles Wilkenson, Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado Law School.  The program attracted an audience of more than 100 individuals. 


“The Poetics and Politics of Water” was organized by Regents Professor Ofelia Zepeda and Professor Larry Evers.  It was sponsored by the American Indian Studies Program and the Department of English.  Co-sponsors included the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the American Indian Language Development Institute, the Institute of the Environment, the Southwest Center, the Confluencenter, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, and the Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office.


The 2015 program is part of an ongoing “Poetics and Politics” project.  See the Archives section of this web site for earlier events in the series.


For additional information, contact Ofelia Zepeda ( or Larry Evers (



Read Eric Magrane's piece regarding the themes of the series.



The Poetics & Politics of Water