TallMountain Awards

TallMountain Creative Writing and Community Service Award Winners have demonstrated their gifts in the literary arts and shown deep commitment to participation and empowerment of their communities. Awards are presented in an effort to carry on the work that Mary TallMountain embodied during her life.

Award Winners:

Terry Messman is the founding editor of Street Spirit Newspaper, one of the outstanding examples of street newspapers and progressive journalism in the country. Terry has dedicated over 20 years to organizing with homeless people in various ways, from occupying and winning housing for shelter to the brilliant advocacy journalism he has practiced in Street Spirit for over a decade. In addition to providing a free speech venue for poverty rights, peace and social justice views that are censored by the mainstream, the paper provides income for scores of homeless people who act as vendors earning honorable income selling papers on the street.

Ellen Danchik is currently disabled as a result of a brain tumor and consequent surgery. She was the legal coordinator for Nuremberg Action Group in the late 1980s, and helped organize the legal defense for hundreds of protesters arrested for civil disobedience at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. For the past 14 years, Ellen has worked as a dedicated advocate for homeless people with disabilities in Contra Costa County, first as a patients rights advocate, then, for the past 8 years, as the Housing Coordinator for the County Mental Health Department, where she helped find housing and supportive services for many of the poorest and most disabled people in Contra Costa County.

Pamela Gard

When she received the Award, Virginia Blairwas in her mid eighties and a stalwart member of the Tenderloin Women Writers Workshop for many years. She has written and published poems about the Tenderloin, racism, TREC people's library, and more recently about her career as a stage and film dancer.

Melissa McNeill was seventy years old and had been attending writing workshops at TREC for several past year. She is currently writing a series of children's stories focusing on a magical raven.

June Strohlin was a twenty-one year old poet with an ethnic background that includes Caucasian, Native American, Filipino, Hawaiian and Portuguese. She plans to publish a book of poetry using strictly street slang.

Sandra Abena Songbird, is a songwriter, singer, poet, and member of the Missisquoi Abenaki tribe of Vermont. She works with the Upper Room and performs with her band, The Songbird and the Moor. Their newest CD is entitled They're Calling Us Home

The Tenderloin Older Writers Network (TOWN) began as a writing workshop and is presently collecting poetry and prose for an anthology from its members, coordinated by Kali Grosberg.

Native Alaskan writer Mary Lockwood, an Inupiaq Malamute from Unalakleet, published with Mary TallMountain in Raven Tells Stories (Greenfield Review Press). Currently working on Prowling Song.

Marsha Campbell singer, painter and poet. Her publications include The Real Fuseli, Reply of Our Lady Teresa and About My Impotence or Sainthood. She has an MA in creative writing from San Francisco State University.

Poet Jerry Miley, homeless for many years, published two collections of his work, Standing in Line and Night Is Colder than Autumn (Manic D Press) and ran TREC's People's Library 1991-96.

About Mary TallMountain

Some Information
Mary TallMountainHer spirit and her ability to connect the different worlds of her experience teach us much about how to live our lives properly."
Barry Lopez

"Her poetry is a permanent testament to the rich tapestry of experience that was her life."
Bill Moyers

Mary TallMountain was a Native Alaskan writer and elder who lived for many years in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. She is remembered for her generous encouragement of aspiring writers of all ages, from inner-city San Francisco to remote villages in Alaska where she taught poetry to children in her later years.

She was born in 1918 in Nulato, a village along the Yukon River in Alaska, to a Koyukon/Athabaskan mother and a Scots/Irish father. When her mother became terminally ill, Mary was adopted by a non-Native couple and taken away from her village. Traumatized first by losing her family and homeland, then by the harshness of mainstream American culture, she felt like an angry outsider for many years. Writing was a way of going home, of reclaiming her ancestry, her family and her homeland, and a way of claiming her own proud native voice. Her stories and poems portray life along the Yukon River and her removal from that land. Her work also captures tender images of street life in inner city San Francisco.

For more than 20 years, TallMountain was active in the Native American literature renaissance. Her poems and stories have been published in dozens of anthologies and periodicals nationwide, including The Language of Life, The Harpers Anthology of Twentieth Century Native American Poetry, The Alaska Quarterly, and Animals Agenda.She read for audiences throughout California and Alaska, and her work is used in teaching Native American Studies at many colleges and universities throughout the United States. In 1989, TallMountain was interviewed by Bill Moyers and read for his PBS poetry series called The Power of the Word. Her work has been collected in book form inThe Light on the Tent Wall, (UCLA Press, 1990) and A Quick Brush of Wings (Freedom Voices, 1991), as well as the posthumous collection Listen To the Night(Freedom Voices, 1995). For many years she wrote a column called "Meditations for Wayfarers" in the Franciscan publication The Way. The Rasmussen Library at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks houses an archival collection of TallMountain's published and unpublished works.