Dr. John Smelcer is the award-winning author of more than 40 books, published in an eclectic range of interests and disciplines. Aside from John's many novels and poetry collections, he has published books in Native Studies, history, mythology, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, as well as anthologies, plays, screenplays, dictionaries, and children's picture books. His short stories, poems, interviews, and essays--read by millions--appear in over 400 magazines and journals worldwide. Smelcer's writing appears in numerous anthologies of the nation’s foremost Native American writers. His autobiography appears in Here First: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers (Modern Library/Random House, 2000). His poems appear in Native American Songs and Poems (Dover, 1996). (To learn more about John's tribal affiliation, click on bio.) In 1995, he edited the anthology, Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry, which was taught at hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation. With Joseph Bruchac, John co-edited Native American Classics (2013), a graphic anthology of 19th and early 20th century American Indian literature, which was named "one of the hottest graphic novels of 2013." His seminal interview "Towards Defining Native American Literature" appears in Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. His novel, The Trap, won the $10,000 James Jones Prize for the First Novel (Jones was the author of such classics as From Here to Eternity, Some Came Running, and The Thin Red Line). The Trap and John's follow-up novel, The Great Death were both selected for England's National Literacy Booktrust. John's Edge of Nowhere was named one of the best books in the UK in 2010, and his novel Lone Wolves is due out in 2013. John's books on Alaska Native mythology include A Cycle of Myths and The Raven and The Totem, which features a foreword by John's mentor Joseph Campbell, who helped George Lucas create the archetypal stories and characters in Star Wars. James Michener and John Gardner were also among John's early writing mentors. John's mythology book In the Shadows of Mountains includes an introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner, Gary Snyder (with Jack Kerouac, one of the orginal Beats), who also wrote a foreword to John's poetry book, Raven. John's poetry book, Without Reservation won the Milt Kessler Prize for the best book of poetry published in America by a poet over 40. It also won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Poetry. For over 20 years, many of John's books have been illustrated by Larry Vienneau.
Dr. John Smelcer is one of the last speakers on earth of the Ahtna Athabaskan language, an endangered Alaska Native language. Only 20 or so elders, all 30-50 years older than John, still speak the language. He is one of only a few people who read and write in Ahtna. If nothing changes, when John Smelcer dies, so too will the Ahtna language. John is also one of only a handful of Native speakers of Alutiiq, a neighboring yet unrelated Alaska Native language from the Prince William Sound region. It too is endangered. One of John's mentors was the legendary MIT linguist, Ken Hale, who spoke over 50 languages and advocated for the linguistic training of cultural insiders. As with his work with Ahtna, John studied Alutiiq with every living elder who spoke the language over a four year period. One of the world's foremost scholars of Native American languages, John Smelcer is the editor-compiler of dictionaries of both languages, the author of numerous articles and encyclopedia entries, essays, and a scholarly book chapter on the origins of Native American languages. John regularly publishes in the Ahtna language. Ahtna tribal members from across the nation regularly thank John for making the Ahtna Noun Dictionary and his bilingual children's book freely available to them. One of John's bilingual poems is on permament display at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo as part of its World Language Conservation Project. In April 2011, John lectured at Harvard University as part of its Omniglot Lecture Series. The National Park Service occassionally consults John about issues of cultural and linguistic history of national parks in Alaska. In 1996, on the 25th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), John and former Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) president Emil Notti, provided forewords to Robert Rude's An Act of Deception, a landmark book that examined the negative impact of the Act on Alaska Native Peoples. At Lee Francis' invitation, John Smelcer was one of the founding members of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers. John and Sherman Alexie were panelists at the 1994 "Returing the Gift" conference of Native American writers and storytellers held on the Makaw Indian Reservation in Neah Bay, Washington.
Many of America’s greatest writers and scholars collaborate with Dr. John Smelcer, including John Updike who edited The Binghamton Poems, Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker with The Complete Ahtna Poems and The Ahtna Noun Dictionary, John's friend Carl Sagan with Tracks, Gary Snyder with In the Shadows of Mountains and Raven, Denise Levertov and Allen Ginsberg with Songs from an Outcast, Chinua Achebe and Ursula K. Le Guin with Stealing Indians, Michael Dorris, James Welch, James Michener, John Gardner and J. D. Salinger with ALASKAN: Stories from the Great Land, Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath's ex-husband) with Raven Speaks. (Incidentally, John was friends with Nicholas Hughes, the son of Hughes and Sylvia Plath, before his death in Fairbanks, Alaska in March 2009.) The Dalai Lama graciously provided a foreword to The Alutiiq Noun Dictionary and in 2011, John co-authored an illustrated poem on compassion with H.H. The Dalai Lama.
John has twice served as a nominator for the $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowships. With Jack Zipes, John co-authored "The Story-Telling Instinct: Why Fairy Tales Stick." With Seth Lerer, John co-authored "Beowulf and the English Literary Tradition." With Joel Gardner, John co-authored "Thirty Years Later: A Conversation on John Gardner." With Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman, John co-authored "American Studies at a Crossroads." With X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, he co-authored "The Future of Poetry in America." With Joseph Bruchac he co-wrote "The Boarding School Experience in American Indian Literature" and "The Dawes Act and the Great American Indian Lands Grab." With Lucille Clifton, who he met at the 2006 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, he co-authored "Identity, Multigenrism, and the Historicity of Jean Toomer's Cane," a reexamination of that seminal book and the rise of the Harlem Renaissance. "The Hughes-Plath Family Tree" is a recollection of John's friendships with Ted and Nick Hughes. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a memoir of John's friendship with John Updike. "Broken Man on Blue Water" is a memoir about Michael Dorris. In "Writer from the Far North" John is called Alaska's modern day Jack London. Since 1995, John Smelcer has been associate publisher and poetry editor at Rosebud, one of the premiere literary magazines in America, where he has edited and published work by many of the world’s greatest writers and pop icons, including Stephen King, John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Chinua Achebe, Alice Walker, Pope John Paul II, The Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson (John worked closely with Michael Jackson editing his poems/lyrics for a proposed book of poetry). Poems published in Rosebud have been selected for The Best American Poetry. Few American poetry editors have led a national magazine for so many years.
For over a decade, John Smelcer was co-judge of the National Poetry Book Award with poets Allen Ginsberg, James Dickey, John Updike, Denise Levertov, X. J. Kennedy, Donald Justice, Thom Gunn, Stanley Kunitz and David Ignatow. Of the many books John selected as winner, Denise Duhamel's The Woman With Two Vaginas was his favorite (Woman is a collection of circumpolar erotic Inuit/Eskimo myth-poems). John Smelcer is the co-founder of several major American literary awards, including the William Stafford Prize for Poetry, the Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize (with Aeronwy Thomas), The X. J. Kennedy Prize for Nonfiction, The Mary Shelley Prize for Fiction, and the John Gardner Prize for Playwriting (co-judged with Joel Gardner). In 2010, John Smelcer invited legendary icon Bob Dylan to co-judge the Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize (Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman, took Dylan Thomas' name as his stage name). Throughout the many years he has served as poetry editor at Rosebud and as co-judge of the National Poetry Book Award, John estimates that he has received and read a staggering 300,000 poems!
John has taught literature, creative writing, public speaking, American Studies, ethnic American literature, and Alaska Native/Native American Studies for over twenty years. He has often been the keynote speaker at university convocations and commencements. For his contributions to ethnic American studies, ethnic American literature, and diversity in higher education, Baruch College of Manhattan, the most ethnically diverse college in America, asked John to deliver the keynote address at their fall 2009 Convocation. In 2010, John was nominated for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks' Distinguished Alumni Award. In November 2012, John delivered the keynote address for the FBI's annual National Native American Heritage Program held in New York City. The program is mandated for all federal agencies by Presidential Executive Order to increase diversity awareness. From 2006-2011, Dr. John Smelcer was the Clifford D. Clark Fellow of English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University, the honors campus of the State University of New York, where he was named the most prolific writer in the history of the university. In March 2010, John received an Award for Excellence in Research. In the fall of 2011, The student newspaper named him one of the university's most interesting, inspirational, and remarkable professors. When asked what he is most proud of, John always replies, "Being a father." Supported by a scholarship from his tribe, John is currently a postdoctoral student at Harvard University.