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Professor Anthony Webster to Speak on Navajo Language Poetry and the (Imagined) Future of Public Readers and Listeners

On Friday, 10/2, from 3:30-5:00pm, the RWL Speaker Series will present a talk by Dr. Anthony Webster entitled“ ‘I don’t write Navajo poetry, I just speak the poetry in Navajo:’ Navajo Language Poetry and the (Imagined) Future Publics of Readers and Listeners,” in McClung Tower 1210-11.

Dr. Webster’s presentation will consider the imagined future publics of Navajos who write poetry in a variety of languages and especially in Navajo and how considerations of those publics may disincline Navajos to write in Navajo. He will discuss some of the motivations that some Navajos have for writing in Navajo and the kinds of audiences that they imagine reading their work. For example, one Navajo consultant wrote poetry in Navajo for her grandchildren who did not speak the language. She hoped, however, that in writing poetry in Navajo that contained messages to them, it would encourage her grandchildren to learn the language. Dr. Webster notes that such imagined potential Navajo reading publics also have other evocations. They allow us to encounter the question of the ways a certain dominant language ideology of standardization has crept into Navajo views about writing Navajo. Dr. Webster will also look at how such potential critical audiences of written Navajo poetry seem to have led to the emergence of poetry composed and performed in Navajo on YouTube. This recent emergent trend echoes a thought experiment that one Navajo poet suggested to Dr, Webster in 2010: “It could be a way of resistance: I don’t write Navajo poetry, I just speak the poetry in Navajo.” It also re-imagines a future public not of just Navajos understanding Navajo, but rather of Navajo as a world language.

Dr. Webster is a linguistic anthropologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University Texas at Austin, as well as an affiliate of the Native American Indigenous Studies Program at UT Austin. In addition to numerous articles, his books include Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics, Intimate Grammars: An Ethnography of Navajo Poetry, and most recently The Legacy of Dell Hymes: Ethnopoetics, Narrative Inequality, and Voice with Paul Kroskrity.

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