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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 3: Research and Discovery - Shirley Sterling and Laura Tohe
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Shirley Sterling
Biography
Work
Interview
Laura Tohe
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Biography

Poet Laura Tohe is a Navajo, or Diné. She was born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and raised on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. "I grew up speaking Diné as my primary language. For a while we lived near Coyote Canyon with my grandparents while my parents operated the Tohe Coal Mine, a family business. After the mine closed, my mother moved us to Crystal, New Mexico, where she worked at the boarding school." In the 1950s, Tohe and her four brothers were growing up on a dirt road in a hogan without plumbing or electricity, but in view of the beautiful Chuska Mountains. With no television, they amused themselves by reading.

"While growing up I heard stories all around me. As we drove down the dusty reservation road, my mother told many Diné stories." Laura Tohe has been publishing her own stories, and poems and essays, since 1981. Making Friends With Water, her first volume of poetry, was published in 1986. Tohe followed with No Parole Today, in which she expressed her memories and feelings, in poetry and prose, about her years in one of the federally run Indian boarding schools. Begun in the late 19th century, this system of schools became infamous as an instrument of the government's determination to assimilate Indian children by separating them from their families and native cultures. "Boarding schools greatly impacted Native American people's lives all over the country," she says. "There was a lot of disruption in family life, and one of the biggest impacts was probably the loss of our native languages. It was literally beaten out of us at those schools."

Tohe coedited Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community, an anthology of poetry, short stories, and essays expressing the views of 49 Native American women. Library Journal recommended the book "for all types of libraries," saying: "These are strong, well-written stories of very real experiences and emotions." Tohe has collaborated on a book about Canyon de Chelly, a beautiful national monument where Navajo still live and farm. Her poetry on rain has been interpreted in dance by the Moving Company of Omaha, and her children's play, The Story of Me, was commissioned by the Emily Gifford Children's Theatre in Omaha.

Growing up, Tohe spoke English as well as Navajo. She was educated at local public schools before going to the Indian boarding school in Albuquerque, and spent a year in a Mormon school. She has a B.A. in psychology from the University of New Mexico and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska, where she received both a Regent Fellowship and a Minority Fellowship. The first Navajo to receive a doctorate in English, Tohe echoes the example of her grandmother, who was one of the first Navajo teachers of the Navajo Nation.

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