Oregon Art Beat

Elizabeth Woody: Transcending Chaos Through Art

By Catherine Stimac (OPB)
Oct. 25, 2018 9:45 p.m.

Poetry and prose are just a few of the ways in which Elizabeth Woody’s art transforms the world around us, turning it into something more compassionate and transcendent.


Her work touches on everything from homelessness and racial violence to salmon recovery and the environment she cherishes. Whatever shape Woody’s work takes, it’s deeply grounded in land and human-based knowledge.

The human spirit ... it's generated through creative expression ... transcended through art and transcended through being able to make sense of things that are very chaotic. And for me art puts order to chaos. You have raw materials that aren't anything until you put them in order.

— Elizabeth Woody

Woody accomplishes this through her writing and visual art, yes, but also through education, mentorship and community and cultural leadership.

An enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Woody is of Yakama Nation descent and is “born for” the Tódích’íinii (Bitter Water clan) of the Navajo Nation. When she was 4 years old, she moved from the Navajo Nation town of Ganado, Arizona, to her mother’s childhood home in Warm Springs, Oregon — the area of the Plateau Columbia River people.

"When I say 'Elizabeth Woody,' I equate that with Warm Springs. And in a way Warm Springs would be a good name for her and her poetry ... That's the way she is — warm springs."

In 2016, Gov. Kate Brown named Woody as Oregon's eighth poet laureate, making her the first Native American to serve in the position. In this role, Woody wanted to "take poetry where poetry hasn't been for a while."

During her tenure, she focused her time on sparsely populated rural towns. She was asked to read in museums, colleges and other small cultural centers around Oregon, including Madras as she felt she had to serve the place that raised her.

We visit Woody in Warm Springs and hear her read from her award-winning books "Luminaries of the Humble" and "Seven Hands, Seven Hearts."

Elizabeth Woody sits with her grandmother Lizzie Pitt in 1986.

Elizabeth Woody sits with her grandmother Lizzie Pitt in 1986.

Photo Courtesy Cynthia D. Stowell


  • Woody, Elizabeth, "Seven Hands, Seven Hearts," 1994
  • Wolf, Edward C., "Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge," 1999
  • Shark, Mark