Marilou Awiakta is an award-winning poet, storyteller, essayist, and environmental advocate whose work draws on her Cherokee ancestry and Appalachian roots. On Thursday, June 3rd, at 6:30 p.m., the UT Libraries and the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture will host a virtual event celebrating Awiakta’s life and work. The livestream event is free and open to the public. Registration information is coming soon!
Awiakta’s work weaves her Cherokee and Appalachian heritage with her experience of growing up during the nuclear era in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to address both current issues and the interconnectedness of all living things. The poems in her first book, Abiding Appalachia; Where Mountain and Atom Meet (1978) blend Cherokee history with the author’s memories of growing up in the top-secret city that produced the atom bomb. In Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother’s Wisdom (1993), Awiakta uses poems, storytelling, and essays to apply Native American philosophy to the problems facing humanity.
Awiakta’s awards and honors include the Distinguished Tennessee Writer Award, the Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature Award, and the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award. In 2020, she was named one of Tennessee’s Ten Significant Women for USA Today’s celebration of 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage. She has been featured in the PBS film Telling Tales and in Appalshop’s program for National Public Radio, Tell It On the Mountain: Women Writers of Appalachia. Awiakta is a 1958 graduate (magna cum laude) of the University of Tennessee.
Awiakta recently donated her papers to the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, adding a new and distinct voice to the UT Libraries’ primary materials on Appalachian and Cherokee culture. We are grateful to her for entrusting them to UT Libraries and look forward to celebrating her life and work at this upcoming virtual event.
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