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John E. Smelcer

Translator, Ahtna Athabaskan
John E. Smelcer, a member of the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska, was Executive Director of his tribe’s endowed Heritage Foundation, and is editor of a dictionary of the Ahtna Athabaskan language. The Ahtna people inhabit eight small villages, mostly located along the silty, glacial-fed Copper River, from which the word is derived ('Atna' tuu). Smelcer’s recent books include The Indian Prophet (2012); Beautiful Words: The Complete Ahtna Poems (2011, with forewords by Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker); Riversongs (2003), winner of the Robert Penn Warren Poetry Prize); and Songs from an Outcast (2000), with an introduction by Denise Levertov and X. J. Kennedy. He also published the nonfiction book In the Shadows of Mountains, introduced by Gary Snyder, and a novel, River’s Edge, edited by Michael Dorris. In Two Lines / Masks, Smelcer translated a traditional Ahtna Athabaskan poem told to him by Morrie Secondchief, his grand-aunt. (Photo credit: image courtesy of the translator)