Chrystos (/ˈkrɪstoʊs/; born November 7, 1946, as Christina Smith) is a Menominee self-educated writer and two-spirit activist who has published various books and poems that explore indigenous Americans's civil rights, social justice, and feminism. Chrystos is also a lecturer, writing teacher and fine-artist.
our dresses & shirts at auctions
our languages on tape
our stories in locked rare book libraries
our dances on film
The only part of us they can’t steal
is what we know.
Life and career
Chrystos – a resident of Bainbridge Island, Washington since 1980 – is a lesbian- and two-spirit-identifying writer, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns they and their. Born off-reservation in San Francisco, California, self-identifying as an urban Indian, Chrystos was taught to read by a self-educated father, and began writing poetry at age nine. Chrystos has written of a difficult, "emotional and abnormal" childhood, including sexual abuse by a relative, life with an abusive and depressed Euro-immigrant mother, and a father who they say was ashamed of his Menominee heritage. At the age of seventeen, Chrystos was put into a mental institution for a summer, and claims that survival on the streets would have been uncertain if that had not happened. Chrystos continued to voluntarily enter such institutions for several years, until realizing that it was making the issues worse.
A self-described political poet, Chrystos was inspired by familial angst stemming from European American cultural hegemony, and more positively influenced by the work of Audre Lorde, Joy Harjo, Elizabeth Woody, and Lillian Pitt, among others, to produce a series of volumes of poetry and prose throughout the 1980s and 1990s . Chrystos' work focuses on social justice issues, such as how colonialism, genocide, class and gender affect the lives of women and Indigenous peoples. Much of the writer's childhood is evident in works about street life, gardening, mental institutions, incest, "the Man" (authoritarian patriarchy), love, sex, and hate. The works are primarily intended for an audience of Native American / First Nations, people of color more broadly, and lesbians. The works are also aimed at raising awareness of Native American heritage and culture, while breaking down stereotypes. Chrystos self-illustrated many of the covers, and usually had the books published in Canada to work around censorious American publishers and "very little support for writers" in the United States.
Chrystos' awards and honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Human Rights Freedom of Expression Award, the Sappho Award of Distinction from the Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, a Barbara Deming Grant, and the Audre Lorde International Poetry Competition.
Chrystos' activism has focused on efforts to free Norma Jean Croy and Leonard Peltier, and the rights of tribes such as the Diné (Navajo) and Mohawk people.