Marilou wiakta

Cherokee/Appalachian Poet, Storyteller and Essayist

Appearance at Ferrum College: Marilou Awiakta was the featured speaker at the Women's Leadership Conference, Ferrum College, March 24-25, 2003. The 2003 theme was Women in Appalachia. Because of circumstances related to the start of the war against Iraq, Awiakta's lecture was delivered through videotape and teleconference. See for details on Ferrum's Women's Leadership Conference.

"Wounds and shadows are still deep in America. The use and consume attitude is still strong, and many Americans feel that they are considered expendable by the society, the marketplace, the government. The things that divide us are many—race, religion, gender, sexual preference, education, on and on. But unity in diversity is the Corn-Mother's cardinal survival wisdom. In the grain, genetic diversity is the key to an immune system that enables adaptation and survival. Unity in diversity is also the basic principle of the Constitution, one that we should consider carefully as America becomes ever more culturally diverse."

From Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom, 1993, pp. 320-21


        Poems Biography Awards Bibliography        

Poems by Marilou Awiakta

Reprinted with the author's permission from Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom.

For responses by a college student, go to Marilou Awiakta's Poems by Thomas Fast.

Smoky Mountain-Woman

I rise in silence, steadfast in the elements
with thought a smoke-blue veil drawn round me.
Seasons clothe me in laurel and bittersweet, in ice
but my heart is constant. ... Fires scar and torrents
erode my shape ... but strength wells within me
to bear new life and sustain what lives already. ...
For streams of wit relieve my heavy mind
smoothing boulders cast up raw-edged. ... And the
raven's lonesome cry reminds me that the soul is
as it has ever been. ...
Time cannot thwart my stubborn thrust toward Heaven.


Song of the Grandmothers

I am Cherokee.
My people believe in the Spirit that unites all things.

I am woman. I am life force. My word has great value.
The man reveres me as he reveres Mother Earth and his own spirit.

The Beloved Woman is one of our principal chiefs.
Through her the Spirit often speaks to the people. In the Great
Council at the capital, she is a powerful voice.
Concerning the fate of hostages, her word is absolute.

Women share in all of life. We lead sacred dances. In
the Council we debate freely with men until an
agreement is reached. When the nation considers war,
we have a say, for we bear the survivors.

Sometimes I go into battle. I also plant and harvest.

I carry my own name and the name of my clan. If I
accept a mate, he and our children take the name of my
clan. If there is deep trouble between us, I am as free to
tell him to go as he is to leave. Our children and our
dwelling stay with me. As long as I am Treated with
dignity, I am steadfast.

I love and work and sing.
I listen to the Spirit.
In all things I speak my mind.
I walk without fear.
I am Cherokee.

When Earth Becomes an "It"

When the people call Earth "Mother,"
they take with love
and with love give back
so that all may live.

When the people call Earth "it,"
they use her
consume her strength.
Then the people die.

Already the sun is hot
out of season.
Our Mother's breast
is going dry.
She is taking all green
into her heart
and will not turn back
until we call her
by her name.


Out of Ashes Peace Will Rise

Our courage
is our memory.

Out of ashes
peace will rise,
if the people
are resolute.
If we are not
we will vanish.
And out of ashes
peace will rise.

In the Four Directions . . .
Out of ashes peace will rise.
Out of ashes peace will rise.
Out of ashes peace will rise.
Out of ashes peace will rise.

Our courage
is our memory.

By Marilou Awiakta


Born January 24, 1936. Knoxville, Tennessee

Early Life:

Lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

University of Tennessee, B. A. in English and French, 1958

Civilian liaison officer and translator for U.S. Air Force, Laon Air Force Base, France, 1964-67

Residence: Memphis, Tennessee

Family: Awiakta and her husband Paul have two daughters, one son, and four grandchildren.


Jesse Hill Ford Award for Poetry, 1972

Person of Quality Award, National Organization for Women, 1983

United States Information Agency, Abiding Appalachia and Rising Fawn & The Fire Mystery chosen for Global Tour of American Writers, 1986

Woman of Vision Award, Memphis Women of Achievement, 1988

Distinguished Tennessee Writer Award, 1989

Outstanding Contributions to Appalachian Literature, Appalachian Writers' Association, 1991

Audio version of Selu:  Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom, with music by Joy Harjo, nominated for a Grammy Award, 1995

Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, Albion College, Albion, Michigan, 1999

Award for Service to American Indian Peoples, American Indian Symposium, Northeastern University, Oklahoma, 1999

Award for Educational Service to Appalachia, Carson-Newman College, 1999

Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award, Shepherd College, 2000

Excerpt from Selu engraved in the River Wall at Nashville's Bicentennial Capitol Mall

Poem "Motheroot" from Abiding Appalachia selected to be inlaid in the walkway of Fine Arts Mall, UCLA Riverside

Books by Marilou Awiakta

Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet
. Memphis: Saint Luke's Press, 1978. Rpt. Bell Buckle, TN: Iris Press, 1995. 71 pp. Poetry that weaves together Cherokee history, the legend of Little Deer, memories of growing up in Oak Ridge (where the atom was split in the 1940s), and thoughts on family, society, and the land.

Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery: A Child's Christmas in Memphis, 1833. Memphis: Saint Luke's Press, 1983. Rpt. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2007.

Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1993. A blend of story, essay, and poetry. Cherokee legends and images from the double weave of Cherokee baskets point us toward preserving a nurturing relationship between humanity and Mother Earth, by instilling appreciation for the earth and applying Native American philosophies to modern problems.

Go to Bibliography with additional writings by and about Awiakta.

This page created 3/2/03. Last update: 03/17/2008
Send questions or suggestions for this page to Tina L. Hanlon
Top of Page

Index to AppLit Pages by Genre