Marilou Awiakta, Cherokee and Appalachian poet, storyteller, and essayist, was born in Knoxville in 1936 and reared in Oak Ridge. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 1958.
Awiakta's unique fusion of her Cherokee and Appalachian heritage with science has brought her international recognition. In 1985 the U.S. Information Agency chose her books Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet and Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery for the global tour of their exhibit “Women in the Contemporary World.”
Awiakta's third book, Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom (1993) applies Native American philosophy to contemporary issues. Quality Paperback Book Club chose it as a Fall 1994 selection. The audio tape of the book (Audio Literature) with music by Joy Harjo, was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award. A quote from Selu is engraved in the River Wall of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall in Nashville, and “Motheroot,” a poem from Selu, is lined in marble along one border of the new Fine Arts Walkway at the University of California, Riverside.
Awiakta received the Distinguished Tennessee Writer Award (1989) and the Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature Award in 1991. She is profiled in the 1995 Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the U.S. and in Contemporary Authors, 1996. Three anthologies from the University of Tennessee Press contain Awiakta's works: Homewords; Homeworks; and The Poetics of Appalachian Space. She has been featured in the PBS film Telling Tales and in Appalshop's program for National Public Radio, “Tell It On the Mountain: Women Writers of Appalachia.”
Formerly chair of the Literary Panel of the Tennessee Arts Commission, Awiakta serves on the boards of the Tennessee Writers' Alliance, the Tennessee Humanities Council, and the National Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.