March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Poet, Photographer Nancy Wood Dies at 76

Award-winning poet, author, and photographer Nancy Wood died March 12 in Santa Fe, NM. She was 76.

Wood devoted her career to exploring the culture and lives of the Native American people of the Southwest, and often found herself inspired by the New Mexico wilderness.

In 1993, she won both the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award for Spirit Walker, an illustrated book of poetry that delves into the Taos Pueblos Indians. School Library Journal  praised Wood’s ability to “[provide] serenity, contemplation, and spiritual richness, experiences that are all too rare in this clamorous age.”

Wood’s work, both for adults and children, was marked by a strong sense of spirituality. Her picture book Old Coyote, a poignant, contemplative tale illustrated by Max Grafe, depicts the last moments of an aging coyote looking back on his life and preparing for his impending death. Inspired by her seven-year-old grandson’s sorrow over the loss of his dog, Wood successfully set out to present a difficult subject with both honesty and compassion. SLJ described the book as a “gentle and sensitive story…delivered in just the right respectful manner.”

In her young adult novel Thunderwoman, Wood melded history and fantasy to tell the story of the Spanish conquest of the Pueblo people.

She brought her dedication to the history of the Pueblos to her nonfiction work as well; in her anthology The Serpent’s Tongue: Prose, Poetry, and Art of the New Mexico Pueblos—which features works from authors such as Will Cather, Tony Hillerman, and others—she collected illustrations, photographs, prose, poetry, and narrative history to explore their history and culture.

“It was my great privilege to work with her on several books, including the amazing magical realist novel Thunderwoman, the beautiful picture book illustrated by Max Grafe about a coyote’s last day, Old Coyote, and her seminal collection The Serpent’s Tongue,” Karen Lotz, president and publisher at Candlewick Press, tells SLJ. “Through these works and others, she tried to share the beauty, ritual, and mystery that she discovered in the Southwest with a global audience.

“Her poems were often read at funerals, because they were keenly penetrating in their emotion, entirely human in scale, and yet so elegantly descriptive of the smallness of that step between our world and the next—where she always envisioned the ancestors as awaiting us. I hope her own passage was as gentle and loving as her work, and I will miss her very much.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.



  1. Thank you for the wonderful obituary for Nancy. (I am her daughter.) Her grown children and caregivers read Mom’s poems to her in her final weeks. They were a great comfort to us all. How fitting that she could finally gain peace from the great words she wrote so many years ago. We hope to return her poetry to publication. Her family would like to thank everyone in the literary world who worked with her over the past 50 years.