By Kelsey Block
A retired local art teacher was recently nominated for an international literary prize. Dorothy Brooks, longtime Poetry Center participant, has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her piece that appeared in Hippocampus Magazine.
Brooks said she started writing in 1967 during a stay in Austria. She said she was studying music in Vienna when her husband fell ill and that writing helped her cope with the emotional pressure.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was just alone in the room we had rented and I just picked up a pen and it was automatic writing,” Brooks said. “The pen just started going so I just followed it. What else was there to do?”
Brooks’ work, “Laughing in Navajo: My Journey to the Rez,” chronicles her time on a Navajo Reservation in northwest New Mexico. Brooks moved out west in the 1980s to teach on the reservation.
“I have a strong social conscience and I believe in acting on it rather than saying it,” Brooks said when asked why she decided to uproot her life in the Midwest and move across the country.
Brooks acknowledged that there were rough days in her career as an educator, both on the reservation and in the Midwest, but noted that a genuine love of learning and people with people who like to learn kept her happy.
“It’s why I keep going back after I retire,” the 74-year-old said.
Brooks said she sees parallels between teaching and writing.
“You’re harnessing an idea or a concept and you explore it in depth. For both, it’s a means of processing life,” Brooks said. “There’s the potential for unexpected turns … and therein lies a challenge if you let it go. [Writing] gave me the confidence to fly.”
When she first heard she had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Brooks said she was totally surprised.
“Usually, I’m pushing as hard as I can to get what I want, but in this case it just floated down. I open my email every morning, and it was just sitting there,” she said. “For all those mountains of reject letters, there’s a blue moon surprise like that. I go nuts. I have to move; I can’t sit still. I run around my house, and if it’s summer time, I outside and run around – who cares what the neighbors think? It’s kind of a writer’s high.”
Brooks said the decision to write about her time on the reservation was a tough one.
“I was convinced I shouldn’t say a word about it to anyone,” Brooks said. “I knew that many anthropologists had done a beautiful job respecting cultures but I also knew that many white folks had a bad rep for coming in and trying to “save” cultures. I didn’t want to be another one of those people.”
Brooks said she didn’t feel comfortable writing about life on the reservation until after she had come to a Poetry Center event and talked with a visiting writer (Rick Mulkey) who reminded her of her right to write about her own opinions and reactions.
Brooks is currently looking for a publisher for the nonfiction book she wrote about her family history.