Diné Poet-Zinester

Amber McCrary is a Diné poet, zinester, and intersectional feminist who runs Abalone Mountain Press. In her shared space with Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Downtown Phoenix, she creates art that is inspired by her indigenous culture. She is the host of the new Abalone Mountain Press podcast, and she facilitates creative writing workshops for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU. Most importantly, she strives to create spaces in which Native communities are represented and heard.

WOD: When did you first become interested in poetry?
Amber: I first became interested in poetry in my mid to late twenties. I’ve always liked poetry but I never considered myself a poet or a writer until I started doing zines.

WOD: What inspired you to start?
Amber: Zines, and watching other people make zines. They would do poetry in a collage style and it was something I saw as accessible. It inspired me compared to writing a poetry book. I would think, “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t have good enough diction” because I didn’t do creative writing as an undergraduate. I didn’t think I had that space to write poetry or I felt like I didn’t have the knowledge. When I saw other people write about it in zines I thought that was a lot more relatable for me. I felt that if someone could do that then I can do it too.

WOD: What are you most passionate about in poetry/zines?
Amber: I’m most passionate about the writing process. I love writing poems but I also love talking about poems with students. I love doing close readings, because the way I interpret poems can be completely different than how a student interprets it. There’s no definite answer and that might frustrate some people but for me I love how people can have so many different interpretations based on their own experiences. I used to think I’m just not smart enough to understand poems but once my teacher facilitated a discussion on how it’s different for everyone I started loving it. It’s not like an equation for math with only one answer.

WOD: What’s your favorite piece to date?
Amber: I don’t have a definite answer but it’s either an Ofelia Zepeda poem or a Sandra Cisneros poem. Those are the poems where I think, “Oh my god, this is so amazing.” My favorite poem that I’ve written might be one of my experimental poems called “Relocated Grief” and it’s written about my dad. The format is not a typical stanza poem it has a lot more experimental aspects to it that I like. It’s also about the Navajo Hopi Relocation Act that did a lot of damage to what happened to my dad’s land. Everything that happened to him also affects and relates to a lot of families that also went through it. There’s something about that poem that connects me and him in a way, especially in terms of pain, trauma and grief.

WOD: How does the love of the arts translate into your life?
Amber: It translates into most aspects of my life. A lot of the close friends that I’ve made are writers or they’re both a writer and an artist, that really helps and inspires me. When I was younger I didn’t have a lot of artist friends and now my friends really inspire me to keep doing art, I hope it goes both ways. I’m in my office right now and that’s why I really love this space, it’s really helped during this pandemic and it just feels like home. I haven’t felt like writing or doing art but being around different artists definitely helps with my mood and morale.

WOD: What inspires you to continue?
Amber: I don’t see much representation for Native communities, that’s not to say there aren’t Native artists across the globe, but here in Phoenix there’s a pretty good Native art scene. There’s an opportunity to make a scene of “do-it yourself” type of stuff, like doing zines. I want to make it accessible for local artists or even artists that are too scared to go to a university and take creative writing classes, they might not even have the money to do that. So, what inspires me is community. I, also, like to think about what resources I would’ve wanted and I try to cater to 16-year-old me because I didn’t really have those resources.