Marilou Awiakta ~ Eastern Band Cherokee

Published on June 1, 2014 by Amy

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Marilou Awiakta
Marilou Awiakta

Marilou Awiakta (born January 24, 1936, Knoxville, Tennessee) is an Eastern Band Cherokee author. She is renowned for writing several books that blend stories, essays and poetry.

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Biography and career

Marilou Awiakta is the seventh generation of her family to grow up in Appalachia, mostly in East Tennessee. Since 1730, her Cherokee and Scots-Irish family has lived as a “designated family” in the mountainous area of the state.

She graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1958 receiving a B.A. magna cum laude, in both English and French. She worked as a civilian liaison officer and translator for the U.S. Air Force at Laon-Couvron Air Base, France from 1964-1967.

She worked in the Arts-In-Schools program in Memphis, Tennessee, and formed poetry workshops in the Women’s Prison. She was co-founder of the Far Away Cherokee Association which is now the Native American Intertribal Association. She lives in Memphis, with her husband, Paul Thompson. They have three children.


  • 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, UC Riverside
  • Books

    Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet. Memphis: Saint Luke’s Press, 1978. Rpt. Bell Buckle, TN: Iris Press, 1995. 71 pp. Rpt. 2006 Pocahontas Press, 65 pp. illustrated with Afterword by Parks Lanier, Jr. Now available from Pocahontas Press, Jane L. Abraham, owner, 304 Royal Lane, Blacksburg, VA 24060.Phone 540-230-0981. 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.
  • 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.
  • Analysis

    Awiakta’s poetry is analysed at length in Our Fire Survives the Storm by Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation).

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