Poetic Soul: Tanaya Winder

Tanaya Winder. Photo: Viki Eagle/Native Max

For as long as I could remember, poetry was one of my creative outlets. As a native youth, I was able to put my feelings, dreams, and struggles into poetic form inside my beat-up notebook. While I didn’t pursue poetry professionally, I can say that I write for a living.

Fast forward about a decade. Fate turned me onto Tanaya Winder, a well-known and established poet, public speaker, writer, artist, and educator. And there would still be more to add to describe Winder fully. Hailing from the Duckwater Shoshone, Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, and Navajo tribes, she’s undoubtedly a Jill of all trades. She’s independent and a trailblazer. She started the first and only all-Native American artist management company, Dream Warriors, which is comprised of herself and hip-hop artists Frank Waln, Tall Paul, and Mic Jordan, to name a few. Winder is the director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Upward Bound Program (CUUB) and a leader who has started a significant number of organizations, projects, and movements. But her first love is poetry.

Tanaya Winder. Photo: Viki Eagle/Native Max

The more I learned about Winder; there was more to admire: her hard-work and humility aside from the fact that her purpose is to help heal her people through her talents. Her poetry is an example of that. She travels the world and shares her works through performances and sells her books, caulk full of inspirational -and heartbreaking- content. I’m glad to call her a mentor and sister.

We booked her for our April issue, also known as the Poetry Issue, and coordinated a photo shoot in Denver, CO. She was kind enough to share an exclusive new piece with us, which you’ll be able to read in our “Until Later” section.

Tanaya Winder. Photo: Viki Eagle/Native Max

When did you get involved in poetry?

I started writing poetry during my senior year of high school. After that, in college I would take poetry classes for my “fun classes,” but it wouldn’t be until the end of my sophomore year that I decided I’d be an English major and began writing more seriously. After that, I pursued a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico.

When did you start taking writing seriously?

I started writing most seriously in grad school because the goal of grad school is to complete a manuscript.

What inspires your works?

I’d say life and love inspire my poetry and work. I love seeing the way everything is connected and related. I learn a lot from all of my travels and trips to different places and communities. I put those lessons into the work and poetry.

Tanaya Winder. Photo: Viki Eagle/Native Max

Do you remember your first serious poem or piece?

I can’t remember what my first serious poem was. Poems come to me all the time, and I’m always writing, so it’s hard to remember the first.

Was writing poetry therapeutic? How did it help?

Writing is therapeutic. Writing is healing to me. You get to travel back in time to revisit specific memories and events and render new situations and emotions and give things new meaning

Who is a fellow indigenous poet you look up to?

My fave native poet is Joy Harjo. She’s amazing

Tanaya Winder. Photo: Viki Eagle/Native Max

Was there a poem that inspired you?

Joy Harjo’s “I Give You Back.”

What is your advice to youth who are interested in poetry?

Keep following your heart. If your soul and spirit call you to write, honor that call. Each of you has a gift, a purpose, and a voice; and that voice deserves to be shared. You never know if the words you share might help heal another person so write every word you ever needed.

Read Tanaya Winder’s exclusive poem “For Girls and Women On Fire”: 

For Girls and Women on Fire

Everything happens for a reason
and breaks you thought were heartaches was really Creator
helping you dodge a massive bullet destined for danger, rupture,
and the darkness you crawled your way out of long ago.
So let go.
Let go of anything that didn’t work out the way you wanted.
Because you know this, deep in your heart of hearts, you know:
you were born from a line of fierce women on fire,
who shine light in the darkest of places, and heal those in need.
And if people are afraid of you
(let them be afraid)
they should be.
Because you are powerful beyond containment;
the kind of free people dream of embodying
and everything is coming together the way it was always destined.
Because you are destined for greatness
and anything you ever set your mind to,
you looked yourself in the mirror and said
“We are going to do this.”
And you did.
You did do it. So don’t stop now.
Because you are meant to
keep all of the promises you ever made to yourself.

-Tanaya Winder