By Gail McCarthy
Susan Deer Cloud, a poet and award-winning writer of varied Native American descent whose writing is rooted in her multicultural background, will be the next writer-in-residence at the Gloucester Writers Center, and set to deliver a public reading next Wednesday.
Cloud has twice received First Prize in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Competition, the Prairie Schooner's Readers' Choice Award, and the Native American Wordcraft Circle Editor's Award for her multicultural anthology "Confluence."
The self-professed word warrior also has received prestigious grants including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and two New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowships.
In a telephone interview this week, Cloud, 61, talked about the influence of her Native American lineage as well as her voracious appetite for writing of all kinds, from 20th century American writers to the ancient Chinese and Japanese writers. She also has an affinity for life itself and all that goes with that journey.
Cloud is a cat lover from the scenic Catskills region of New York state, where she grew up in the small town of Livingston Manor, with a population of just more than 1,000.
Her ancestors — including a Mohawk medicine woman who drowned while trying to bring medicine to a sick white child when she was washed off a bridge crossing a flooding creek — are of Blackfoot, Mohawk and Seneca heritage on her mother's side, she said.
As a child, Cloud said, she spent a lot of time in the nearby woodlands.
"Growing up there was a huge emphasis on Mother Earth, the natural world and everything being pervaded by spirit," she said. "There was an emphasis on meeting and greeting people with an open heart and always trying to understand other people."
Cloud said she knew she was going to be a writer ever since she was a child.
"My father used to take us for long drives and when we stopped singing songs, I would start making up stories," she recalled. "Oral tradition was big in my family from all sides. There was a lot of story telling."
This will be her second visit to Gloucester. The first time, she said, she was 18 when a boyfriend brought her here for a brief visit.
"I have this memory of how beautiful it was and I remember huge boulders and the wildness of the place," said Cloud. "It was a big thrill for me because, growing up in the mountains, I hadn't seen much ocean."
She is thrilled to stay in Vincent Ferrini's old home as part of her residency here. The Gloucester Writers Center is housed in the home of the late Ferrini, known by many as the proletarian poet.
"I know he worked in the factories," she said. "On my father's side, both my grandparents were immigrants who worked in a shoe factory."
She said her paternal history is an equally interesting part of American history in how they came to this country. Her grandfather was from Russia and her grandmother was a Czech who was adopted by a Viennese couple.
Cloud came to know of Ferrini through a fellow writer of Native American descent, Paul Hapenny. So she went in search of his writings and found them at the library,
Henry Ferrini, a founder of the writers center and the late Ferinni's nephew, said the organizers are excited to present a writer of Native -American heritage in this first residency of 2012.
From Gloucester, he noted that Cloud will then take part in a Massachusetts Poetry Festival event at the Peabody Essex Museum on April 21 when she will be one of three poets participating in a reading and discussion inspired by themes in the current museum exhibition titled "Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art."
Cloud earned Bachelor and Master of Arts in Literature and Creative Writing degrees from Binghamton University and a a master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She has taught as a lecturer at Binghamton University, Broome Community College, and Holyoke Community College.
Her website bio sums up her mission: "Deer Cloud's life is dedicated to her creative work, editing and getting out the voices of sister and brother writers (especially indigenous writers), mentoring younger poets, teaching, and sharing her stories and poetry with others.
"The guiding symbol for her life is the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Sky Woman Creation Story and the Iroquois Confederacy's Tree of Peace; for this reason whatever she says and does takes into account the next seven generations to come."
Gail McCarthy may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3445 or email@example.com.
reading poetry and Writing
Who and what: Susan Deer Cloud, a poet and fiction writer of Blackfoot, Mohawk, and Seneca heritage, holds a public reading.
When: Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gloucester Writers Center at 126 East Main St. in Gloucester. For more information, visit Gloucesterwriters.org.