The infamous Ivan Brownotter visited Roanoke College from Cayucas, CA on Thursday, Feb. 8. He read poems from his recent and upcoming books to about sixty students, faculty, and community members who attended the reading in Pickle Lounge.
Brownotter was introduced by Dr. Michael Heller as a track and football player in college, a biology teacher turned writer, and a muse to his own writing. On the spectrum between these careers, Brownotter has taught in Native American Schools, taught writing in prisons, and is now retired on the beaches in California with his cat Zamunda and dog, Jake. For over a decade, Ivan has also been a member of Dr. Heller’s writing classes in spirit as well as in his shared writing, sending in his poems and becoming a legend to the students in the circular setting of Dr. Heller’s classroom.
His first readings came from his book Crossing the Plateau that detailed some images and stories from his time teaching on the reservation. He painted sunsets and captured the angst and frustration of children in a complicated system that often seemed to work against them in his page long poems. Ironic, sardonic, but more often lighthearted, Ivan shared personal reflections on his own challenges, the effects his family had on his adult life, and the emotions he felt living in the parts of the landscape that he did.
After Dr. Heller took a seat in the audience, Brownotter took to the podium, saying how honored he was to be invited to speak at Roanoke College. He participates in many readings and in many writing groups near his home in California; a place alive with the art, he says. However, this was the farthest he had traveled for an event such as this.
In a dinner with Ivan and some fellow students after the event, he speaks frankly about the challenges facing young people. He talks about the fluidity of spirituality and the temptation to settle one’s dreams when they aren’t sure what they are yet as someone who has seen it happen too many times, perhaps even to himself.
“Sometimes, when you’re young like I am,” he says, “you don’t know what to do.”
The following day, two of Dr. Heller’s classes had the opportunity to speak and write with Brownotter, journaling about forgiveness and peace. He encouraged those that he spoke to about the importance of moving on a fluid trail, to not feel as though it is necessary to live linearly, and instead to just be and allow life to move us as it will.
Between Colorado and British Columbia, Arizona and New Mexico, Ivan beautifully personified and iconized the places he had called home. He did not see himself as near done however, explaining that while plans and the stress of needing to live in a linear manner is no longer a factor in his life, he is ever moving and ever learning. He is currently working on his next book of poems and small writings.