A member of the Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) Nation, Ofelia Zepeda grew up in Stanfield, Arizona. She earned a BA, an MA, and a PhD in linguistics from the University of Arizona. She is the author of a grammar of the Tohono O'odham language, A Papago Grammar (1983). Zepeda’s poetry collections include Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) and Jewed’l-hoi/Earth Movements, O’Odham Poems (1996).
Zepeda’s poetry touches on linguistics, O’odham traditions, the natural world, and the experience of contemporary O’odham life. Her work is influenced by traditional Papago themes and songs. Dennis Holt, reviewing Zepeda’s work for Drunken Boat, identified the “cultural mélange” of her work, commenting that “a number of Zepeda’s poems display varying patterns of bilingualism, including code-switching and immediate interlinear translation.”
Zepeda was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship (1999) for her contributions as a poet, linguist, and cultural preservationist. She received a grant from the Endangered Language Fund for her work on the Tohono O’odham Dictionary Project. Zepeda has been a professor of linguistics and director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Arizona, as well as director of the American Indian Language Development Institute. She edits Sun Tracks, a book series devoted to publishing work by Native American artists and writers, at the University of Arizona Press.
Photo credit: Tony Celentano for www.poets.org/poet/ofelia-zepeda