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Kathleen Wiegner

Transcribed from Jemez Thunder, Feb. 15, 2002

About 500 people crowded into the Jemez Valley High School auditorium on Feb. 2 for the symposium featuring New Mexico authors Tony Hillerman, Rudolfo Anaya and N. Scott Momaday. The state’s three literary giants had never appeared on the same stage before, and people came from as far away as Seattle specifically to attend the event. The Albuquerque Journal covered the event, and radio station KUNM made a tape recording for possible future broadcast on National Public Radio.

AUTHORS SYMPOSIUM - Tony Hillerman, Rudolfo Anaya and N. Scott Momaday spoke about their writing in a two-hour symposium on Feb. 2. About 500 people attended the event, which was held at Jemez Valley High School.  Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder

AUTHORS SYMPOSIUM – Tony Hillerman, Rudolfo Anaya and N. Scott Momaday spoke about their writing in a two-hour symposium on Feb. 2. About 500 people attended the event, which was held at Jemez Valley High School. Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder

Morris Taylor of Cañon organized the symposium as a celebration of New Mexico’s tri-cultural heritage Anglo, Chicano and Indian – as well as showcasing the literary talents of the state. The Friends of the Library helped sponsor and promote the event. Kathleen Wiegner, editor of the Jemez Thunder, acted as moderator. Hillerman is best-known for his novels about Navajo policemen working in the Four Corners area; Anaya is the author of Bless Me Ultima, and Zia Summer, among others; and Momaday, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, is a resident of Jemez Springs whose works include House Made of Dawn and The Way To Rainy Mountain. Books were provided by Bookworks of Albuquerque, which the authors were happy to autograph for their readers, a portion of the book sales going to the Friends of the Library. There was no charge to attend the symposium.

Jemez Springs Librarian Judith Isaacs welcomed everyone to the symposium and introduced Johnnie Garcia, the Mayor of Jemez Springs, and Paul Tosa, Governor of the Pueblo of Jemez, both of whom gave welcoming addresses.

AUTHORS ARRIVE - Upon arriving at Jemez Valley High School, authors Hillerman, Anaya and Momaday were greeted by Kathleen Wiegner, the moderator of the symposium. Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder

AUTHORS ARRIVE – Upon arriving at Jemez Valley High School, authors Hillerman, Anaya and Momaday were greeted by Kathleen Wiegner, the moderator of the symposium. Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder

Each author began with a brief statement of introduction. Tony Hillerman responded to what he called an “FAQ” – a frequently asked question – about “Why is some redneck white guy writing about Navajo Indians?” He said that he grew up with Indians and attended Indian school. He said that society was divided into “us vs. them,” though the division was not racial or ethnic, but the difference between town kids and country kids. Hillerman said he was a country kid then, and still feels like one to this day. He said he always felt at home with the Navajos and admires their value system. Rudolfo Anaya spoke of his childhood in Santa Rosa on the Pecos River, and how he always felt closer to river valleys than to mountains. Some years ago, he bought a little house in Jemez Springs and raises fruit trees and corn on the property. It occurred to him that, in a way, he had returned to the river valley of his childhood, many years later, in the Jemez Valley.

Scott Momaday spoke of spending most of his life in Indian cultures, with the Kiowas in Oklahoma, the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners area, and the Pueblo of Jemez. When he moved to the Jemez Pueblo, he said, “I woke up and beheld a new world. Marco Polo had nothing on me. I had come to my greatest adventure, my growing up.” He spoke of the Buffalo Trust, which he founded four years ago to help Native American children regain and preserve their Indian identity.

When asked about where they had learned their storytelling abilities, both Momaday and Anaya cited the oral traditions of their own cultures. “I grew up with stories, the cuentos of the Spanish tradition,” said Anaya. “Listening to them as a child was very formative. Later I loved reading them.” However, said Anaya, the oral tradition is getting lost. He said that it was important to collect the stories into books and to get them into the classroom. Momaday talked about how his father was a storyteller and told the stories of the Kiowa. “I write in the oral tradition and I also teach in that tradition,” said Momaday. “Writing gives us a false sense of security. In the oral tradition, everything is just one step removed from extinction.” Hillerman remembered his childhood in a tiny town in Oklahoma where his family were farmers and his father ran a sort of general store. “People would come to the store and tell stories,” said Hillerman. “I discovered that if you could spin a yarn, people would pay attention.”

Momaday said that he did not think of himself as an Indian writer. “I don’t know what that means,” he continued. “Literature is literature. Categories don’t mean that much to me.” Anaya, however, told the audience that he strongly identifies with being a Chicano writer. “It has been very exciting to be a part of a movement.” Hillerman said he did not think of either Momaday or Anaya as “a hyphenate” but as great writers. He said he thought of Momaday as a poet and that when he thinks of Anaya he thinks of his characters who are ” good country people, genuine human beings.”

When asked about how New Mexico had inspired them as writers, both Momaday and Hillerman talked about the state’s varied and spectacular landscape. “I like the variety of this state,” said Hillerman, “and I like a state full of empty spaces.” Anaya, however, said that if he had to make a choice between places and people, he would say that his inspiration comes from the people.

The authors then took questions from the audience, talking about their writing habits, future projects and what they read. Momaday had the audience laughing when he told them that everyone should say they have “a work in progress.” It’s like a credit card you can draw on, he said. Anaya revealed that the “Spring” book in the novels he has been writing with seasons of the year in the titles might be called “Jemez Springs.” Hillerman also amused the audience with his discussion of a pig launcher, part of the research on pipelines he is doing for a book he is working on.

The final question concerned how the events of Sept. 11 had affected each author. Hillerman got a loud ovation when he said he was concerned that the government would respond by “ripping up our Constitution.  Anaya said that when he saw the towers topple, he thought of all the souls who had died unprepared. “I pray for those people,” he said. Momaday concluded by saying that the events “have made us think of human life, the planet, and our souls in a new light.”

by Kathleen Wiegner, transcribed from Jemez Thunder, July 1, 1995

On June 24, tiny Jemez Springs shared the stage of the Stouffer Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in Cleveland with nine other cities from across the United States. The occasion was the awarding of the National Civic League’s All-American City Awards, which recognize grassroots activism and collaborative problem-solving by public, private and nonprofit sectors.

To the applause of the more than 1,200 delegates from 30 finalist communities, the Jemez Springs delegation – Mayor David Sanchez, Courtney Lewis, Barbi Flora-Baker and Kathleen Wiegner – received the framed certificate which will be formally presented to the village on July 4th.

All-American City

Other cities receiving an award were Mobile, AL, Lindsay, CA, Monrovia, CA, Ocala-Marion County, FL, Lafayette, IN, Greater Louisville, KY, Lumberton, NC, Akron, OH, and Edinburg, TX.

From the beginning, Jemez Springs was a sentimental favorite. The fact that a village of only 456 people had made it to Cleveland in the same company as Greater Louisville (with nearly one million in population) or San Jose, gave Jemez Springs the classic role of the underdog. Sometimes, this caused problems. On the official T-shirt which named the 30 nominated cities, the village was listed as “Jamaz Springs.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer got the spelling right, but missed a word, referring to the village as “Jemez, NM.”

Other cities brought more people and made more elaborate presentations before the 12 judges who made the final decisions: Edinburg brought a 12-piece mariachi band; Lumberton entertained the crowd with rock and roll band comprised of six policeman and a fireman; Ocala showed up with an American Eagle from the petting zoo which proceeded to nip its handler on the cheek during Ocala’s presentation to the judges. Greater Buffalo put together an elaborate video. Many delegates sported custom T-shirts and buttons touting their towns. Lafayette’s delegates were decked out in railmen’s striped overall and caps with buttons that flashed just like a crossing sign.

The Jemez Springs delegates, whose trip was financed totally through donations, put their emphasis on the story they told the judges during the 20 minutes they had to give their presentation and answer questions. The only visuals were color slides of the Jemez take by local photographer Frank Sarnol.

The presentation, which was held on Friday afternoon, started with Mayor Sanchez outlining the problems Jemez Springs, a once-quiet village, has faced recently because of growth in population and in tourism, particularly with the creation of the Jemez National Recreation Area.

Jemez Thunder Editor Kathleen Wiegner talked about how the village, facing bankruptcy, instituted a range of cost-control measures, while relying heavily on volunteer, self-help and intergovernmental load-sharing strategies. As Jemez Springs’ Volunteer of the Year, Barbi Flora-Baker told the judges about all of the village’s volunteer groups and how they served without pay in an effort to keep the village running. Finally Jemez High School graduate Courtney Lewis outlined the village’s efforts to protect its small-town ambience through the adoption of an up-to-date zoning.

The Mayor concluded the presentation by pointing out that the problems Jemez Springs faced were not unique. With more unfunded mandates, more responsibility has been placed on communities to support themselves. Nor are all of the village’s problems solved. But, he concluded, Jemez Springs has come a very long way in a very short time.

Following the presentation, the Jemez Springs delegates switched into casual clothes to get ready for the Civic Action Fair that was held in the Stouffer’s Exhibition Hall Friday evening. Each of the 30 cities nominated had a booth where they got to strut their stuff. This involved handing out food, buttons and information packages. People grazed on nachos from Texas, shrimp from Alabama, and ice cream cones from Norfolk, VA, as they walked from booth to booth filling bags with handouts.

Barbi Flora-Baker (left) and Courtney Lewis hand out information as they man a booth in Cleveland, Ohio. Jemez Springs was the smallest town to compete for one of 10 All-American City Awards. Photo by Kathleen Wiegner/Jemez Thunder

Barbi Flora-Baker (left) and Courtney Lewis hand out information as they man a booth in Cleveland, Ohio. Jemez Springs was the smallest town to compete for one of 10 All-American City Awards. Photo by Kathleen Wiegner/Jemez Thunder

Through the course of the evening, as wall-to-wall crowds surged by the Jemez Springs booth, Courtney and Kathleen handed out Pueblo of Jemez oven bread, home-made bizcochitos, chili candy and posters donated by the Forest Service. Barbi made sure they got information packets about the village and its businesses and helped Mayor Sanchez with the drawing that had been organized.

Attendees at the Jemez Springs booth drew for prizes that included T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, chili products, dog biscuits, arts and crafts, and gift certificates – all donated by Jemez businesses. The delegation had planned to play Indian flute music on a portable tape player. But Monrovia, CA, situated right next to the Jemez booth, brought along a tuba player who kept bursting into “California Here I Come” and forming conga lines. By the end of the evening, virtually nothing was left from the 13 boxes that had been shipped from the Village Office.

While a judge told the Mayor afterwards that the decision to give an award to Jemez Springs was never in doubt, the tension at the table mounted as the winners were announced. Finally there were only three more awards left. But as William Winter, former Governor of Mississippi and Foreman of the All-America City jury, started to say why the next award was being given, the Jemez delegation knew that their village had been chosen.

Afterwards, everyone walked over to Jacob’s Field for a party. The Lumberton band played old-fashioned rock and roll and Monrovia once again formed a conga line. Only this time as they snaked by the table someone called out, “Come on, New Mexico, join us,” and gave the winners’ thumbs up. “Way to go, New Mexico,” someone else shouted.

Way to go, Jemez Springs!