Paisley Rekdal to Lead the American West Center
The College of Humanities at the University of Utah has named Paisley Rekdal, Distinguished Professor of English, as the next director of the American West Center.
Rekdal will begin her appointment on July 1, 2023, when Gregory Smoak, associate professor
of history, concludes his 11-year tenure as director. The college is forever grateful
for Smoak’s many years of leadership and service and is looking forward to a new chapter
“Under Smoak’s leadership, the American West Center has continued to thrive and grow,” said Hollis Robbins, dean of the College of Humanities. “Through the center, he has created and worked on projects for the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service, as well as numerous projects for Native peoples creating curricular support for tribes, documenting oral histories, creating archives and more. His ongoing project, Native Places Atlas, restores Indigenous place names to the features of Utah and the Intermountain West.”
Although he’s been the director since 2012, he has been involved with the center since 1988. He began by editing and recording oral histories and doing contract research and reports for American Indian tribes and later became a co-PI on a project for Shoshone Bannock Tribes.
"The American West Center has been my intellectual home and integral to my career since I first came to the university over three decades ago and I look forward to remaining engaged with the center through ongoing and future projects,” said Smoak. “Professor Rekdal will be the perfect director to sustain the center's long tradition of community engagement while leading it in exciting new directions."
The American West Center was founded in 1964 with the unique mission of researching the history and culture of the American West. Over the past half century, faculty and graduate student researchers have taken more than 7,000 oral histories, including an unparalleled 2,000 Native American interviews.
The center’s staff has created an archive of documents essential for the study of Western peoples and lands as well as a myriad of curriculum support materials – most notably seventeen community history textbooks and a statewide curriculum focused on Utah’s American Indian peoples. Now entering its sixth decade, the center continues to be a vibrant part of the University of Utah. Because both undergraduate and graduate students carry out projects, the center offers invaluable hands-on education and experience. Through interdisciplinary work, the center brings together students and faculty who might not otherwise cross paths.
“I’m extremely excited to work with a center devoted to exploring the West through an interdisciplinary lens,” said Rekdal. “In the coming years, I want to showcase the amazing work the center has already done with the local indigenous communities and also expand the center’s outreach efforts with regard to language preservation and fostering Native arts. I want to create more public programming that centers Latinx, AAPI, and refugee narratives in the West. I also want to shine a spotlight on the many scholars, environmental researchers, farmers, artists and filmmakers who are already rethinking the future of the West in an era of unprecedented climate change.”
About Paisley Rekdal
Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, “The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee;” the hybrid photo-text memoir, “Intimate;” and six books of poetry: “A Crash of Rhinos;” “Six Girls Without Pants;” “The Invention of the Kaleidoscope;” “Animal Eye,” a finalist for the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Prize and winner of the UNT Rilke Prize; “Imaginary Vessels,” finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Prize, and “Nightingale,” which won the 2020 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. Her newest works of nonfiction are a book-length essay, “The Broken Country: On Trauma, a Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam” and “Appropriate: A Provocation.” She guest edited “Best American Poetry 2020.” Two new books are forthcoming: a hybrid book-length poem entitled “West: A Translation” (Copper Canyon Press, May 2023) and “Real Toads: Imaginary Gardens: How to Read and Teach a Poem” (forthcoming from W.W. Norton).
Her work has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Residency, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Pushcart Prizes (2009, 2013), Narrative's Poetry Prize, the AWP Creative Nonfiction Prize, and various state arts council awards. Her poems and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New Republic, Tin House, the Best American Poetry series (2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019), and on National Public Radio, among others.
She is also the creator and editor of West: A Translation, as well as the community web projects Mapping Literary Utah and Mapping Salt Lake City. Between 2017-2022, she served as Utah's Poet Laureate, receiving a 2019 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship. She currently serves as poetry editor for High Country News, and as co-chair of PEN America's Utah Chapter.