Francis posthumously awarded Lifetime Achievement Award
by Terri Crawford Hansen
News from Indian Country
A close circle of Native writers gathered at the 2004 Returning the Gift Festival to pay tribute to the late Dr. Lee Francis III, Laguna Pueblo.
The internationally-renowned educator, speaker, author and poet was awarded the 2004 Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his visionary conception in founding The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.
He created the non-profit organization in 1992 at the first annual RTG Festival. Accepting the award on his behalf was his only son, Lee Francis IV, who assumed, by consensus of the Wordcraft national caucus, the position of The Wordcraft Circle national director after his fathers' untimely passing in July 2003.
In accepting the award Francis said, referring to the space flight Dr. Francis and his wife took, "Astronaut Commander Herrington related to me that after my fathers' crossing over, he spoke of speaking from the heart, because that is what my father always did, and that is what he encouraged everyone else to do." He also talked about his father's Wordcraft family and what his father had accomplished.
Prolific Native writer Joseph Bruchac was unable to attend this year's event, but put his feelings into words. "When I learned of Lee winning the award I had a sudden feeling as if wings were opening in my chest," he wrote.
"It was a mixture of both joy and sorrow. Joy for the well-deserved recognition of Lee's work as a superb writer and a positive, fathering force in the lives of so many young (and old) Native writers. And a deep sorrow - that I will never ever lose - because of his untimely departure. I am smiling as I write this, and there are also tears in my eyes.
"There's an old saying among our Native people here in the northeast that those who die are no further away than the other side of a leaf that has fallen. It's that way with Lee. I believe that his gentle and supportive presence will always remain close to everyone who knew him and was touched by his boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm and belief in the power of all our stories."
The festival was more of an awards ceremony than a festival this year, Francis said. Many of his fathers’ relations including his wife, Mary Francis, and his aunt Frida Stewart attended, along with several Wordcraft Circle and Native Writers' Circle of the Americas' members, his fathers’ friends, colleagues and an assembly of Oklahoma University instructors.
"It was a very nice event," Francis said. "There were 12 to 14 beautifully catered banquet tables full of delicious foods. After the awards ceremony, we spent the evening together mingling and chatting with friends."
In Wordcraft's latest online newsletter, www.wordcraftcircle.org/home.htm, Francis wrote, "A big thank you to everyone who was there and everyone who voted. I'm sure that my father was smiling and thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone." He also promised that pictures would be available soon on the web site.
Wordcraft Circle was a success story from its very beginning. Dr. Francis' concept was to form an organization of Native writers and storytellers at all levels of skillfulness, then link established writers and storytellers as mentors to beginning and emerging writers. Many of those writers who began at Wordcraft have gone on to see their works published in anthologies and books.
Of all his honors, awards and accolades, in June of 2003 Dr. Francis said Wordcraft Circle was his greatest achievement. To date, Wordcraft Circle includes over 300 members from 135 Indigenous nations. In his work with Wordcraft Circle, Dr. Francis taught, inspired, encouraged, served and selflessly gave himself to Indigenous peoples throughout the world.
Among his many books, Dr. Francis wrote Native Time: A Historical Time Line of Native America, co-authored Reclaiming the Vision - Past, Present and Future: Native Voices for the Eight Generation, and wrote his final book of poetry titled On the Good Red Interstate: Truckstop Tellings and other Poems.
Past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award include Paula Gunn Allen, Joseph Bruchac, Vine Deloria, Jr., Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, Simon J. Ortiz and Leslie Marmon Silko.