Cherokee Poetry and the Power of Self Expression

The Cherokee people have been known throughout history as great orators and storytellers, but it is only in the modern age that Cherokee poems and creative writing have become part of tribal history. Cherokee poems and prayers, as well as other printed reading materials, have been featured in a variety of media and online outlets. These publications and websites are currently celebrating and preserving the creative voices of Cherokee writers and authors.  

Cherokee Literature Initiative – The Cherokee Literature Initiative is focused on translating and publishing works of literature into the Cherokee language. One of the first books in the initiative is Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain. The novel is translated by Myrtle Driver Johnson.

Learn More about Native American Poets, including Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The Poetry Foundation is publisher of Poetry magazine and, according to their website, “an independent literary organization committed to discovering and celebrating the best poetry.” The Poetry Foundation website has a series of articles on Native American poetry that include Gladys Cardiff, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Cardiff’s father was a member of the Owl clan of the North Carolina Cherokee, and her collections of poetry are:

  • To Frighten a Storm 
  • A Bare Unpainted Table
  • From the Belly of the Shark
  • Carriers of the Dream Wheel
  • Songs from This Earth on the Turtle’s Back
  • Harper’s Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry
  • Reinventing the Enemy’s Language

Cardiff was winner of the Washington State Governor’s First Book Award and received prizes from the Seattle Arts Commission.

Cherokee Poets Featured at Asheville Wordfest

In the past, Cherokee poetry has even been part of Asheville Wordfest, an event focused on building and connecting the diverse communities of WNC through the many forms of storytelling, poetry, fiction, oral history, music, poetry animation, and workshops. In 2013, Cherokee poet Paula Nelson (singer, poet, writer, dancer, and preservationist) participated and read some of her work. Nelson is known for mixing storytelling, lecturing, and singing. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and lives within the Qualla Boundary. She has published several poems and was chosen by the Chief to illustrate children’s books to promote literacy. Watch this video to see an interview with Paula Nelson hosted by Silas House, interim director of Berea’s Appalachian Center in Kentucky.

In addition to poetry, other forms of creative expression are common in Cherokee culture. Singing, basket weaving, carving, jewelry, beadwork, and painting can all be found when you visit Cherokee, NC, and explore the history of the original inhabitants of the Appalachian Mountains.