nila northSun is a poet, photographer, social worker, tribal historian, community activist, eclectic artist, and grant writer. northSun was born in 1951 in Schurz, Nevada, to a Shoshone mother and Chippewa father. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she returned to her reservation in Fallon, Nevada, to raise her family.
northSun attended California State University at both Hayward and Humboldt, majored in psychology, and met her first husband, writer Kirk Robertson. They collaborated on the publication of a small press literary magazine called Scree, which included work by Charles Bukowski, a seminal writer of the late twentieth century.
In 1975, northSun completed her BA in art at the University of Montana, Missoula, where she also began her life-long commitment to tribal communities. She has photographed elders for the permanent collection of the Flathead Indian Museum, taught cultural awareness classes, and documented significant Native American sites for Santa Barbara County, California, and for an environmental assessment in Nevada.
northSun has published five poetry books and one non-fiction book, including diet pepsi & nacho cheese (1977); coffee, dust devils, and old rodeo bulls (1979) with Robertson; and small bones, little eyes (1981) with Jim Sagel. As Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribal historian, she published After the Drying Up of the Water (1977). At a gathering of Native American writers at the University of Oklahoma, northSun met writer, poet, and screenwriter, Sherman Alexie, who eventually helped her organize and edit her fourth work of poetry, a snake in her mouth: poems 1974–96 (1997). Alexie characterizes northSun's latest book, love at gunpoint (2007), as "funny and brutal. In short direct lines, she tells the story of a life filled with pain, shame, agony, and glorious little moments of joy. She is one of my favorite poets."
northSun received the 2000 Silver Pen Award from the University of Nevada Friends of the Library. In 2004, she was the recipient of the international ATAYAL organization's Indigenous Heritage Award for Literature. northSun was appointed to the Nevada State Women's Commission in 1992 and the Nevada State Arts Council in 2000. She has hosted poetry readings and slams in California and Nevada, encouraging new poets to develop their skills. northSun has been published in numerous anthologies and textbooks. She participated in the famous "Taos Poetry Circus." Her recent book tour for love at gunpoint included book signings at the notorious Bowery Club in New York City and at the University of Santa Barbara.
northSun's work has always involved Native Americans. She is particularly proud of her efforts for the tribal emergency youth shelter, of which she was the director for eight years. Today, she works diligently for her tribe as a grant writer, imagines her next road trip, enjoys time with her grandchildren, and follows her artistic and humanistic credo, also the title to one of her poems—"making something out of nothing."
None at this time.