A Chat With Natalie from Jane Kirkpatrick’s The Healing of Natalie Curtis

Tell us something about where you live. That’s not an easy question to answer. I grew up in New York but I’ve spent the last years of my life traveling all over the Southwest and West. I lived in Old Orabi, a Hopi village in Arizona. And I stayed in Yuma, Arizona for a time. Then my work – well my passion really – took my brother and me and our horse drawn wagon all across the country with my Edison machine making recordings of Indian music I feared would be lost due to a law that forbid Indian people to sing or perform or speak their language. The West is my home. But I guess you could say now that my heart is in New Mexico. Santa Fe to be exact.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? Oddly, I guess you could say I formed a new occupation called “ethnomusicologist,” someone who studies the origin of music especially that of another culture. I love this work! Recording and writing down the notes of complex music of Indigenous people has consumed my life. I guess you could also say that I’m a writer since I worked on the book, which was published even though it was 575 pages long! It’s called The Indians’ Book. I don’t really feel like I “wrote” it. I was “but a pencil in the Indians’ hands.” The only thing I disliked was having to edit out anything!

Who are the special people in your life?  First of all, my brother George. I have five siblings but George is the one who helped save me. I had a breakdown when I was in my early twenties and it was George who lured me west to find healing. He thought my healing would come from the sunshine and desert air, but it came through the music of the Indian people I met like Mina, a Hopi child who stole my heart. There were others, my parents, of course, who encouraged my passion for preserving Indian music and Charlotte Mason, one of my benefactors. (I needed money to travel throughout the west).  And then there’s President Theodore Roosevelt who I enlisted in my efforts. He might not think he was special in my life but I sure think he is!

What is your heart’s deepest desire? To see Native Americans free to celebrate their music without fear of repercussions as they experienced in the late 1800s.

What are you most afraid of? Living a life without purpose and for me that means falling back into letting my parents take care of me in our lovely New York home. The West, with its beauty and its demands, gave me courage to try new things even as I walked into uncertainty. Also, I don’t like snakes.

Do you have a cherished possession? I do! It’s an Acoma Pueblo pot, beautifully crafted and painted with an aloe stem. It was a gift and part of what I love about it is the story the Acoma people tell about their pottery. Once the pots were shaped and fired, they were so fragile that they often broke. The shards would be taken to the desert and discarded but also offered as a gift back to the earth that had first given up the clay. One day, an old woman pounded the fired shards back into powder that was added to new clay. When those pots with the broken pieces and the new pieces were fired, the pots were not only beautiful but strong. I always liked that image of who we are: broken by tragedy and trial, fired by the challenges of life. But when we allow newness to come into our life, we become not only beautiful but strong. I’ve kept that metaphor all along my journey toward my personal healing.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? Many things. I used to be very disciplined with my music, practicing for hours. I thought it would be my future. But when I had my breakdown, music no longer held its sway with me and I languished until my brother invited me West. Part of what I learned is that a passion can burn a person up. Guilt can take a person down but both purpose and regret can also fire new desires. I learned that I was stronger than I thought and that when I took on another’s cause, I had even more energy than when I was only thinking of myself. Giving myself to others, that’s what really brought on the healing.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve kept learning and exploring. I have traveled by horseback to outlying Indian villages, where I recorded Morning Songs and lullabies. But, I’ve also been exploring how people treat each other. The Code of Offenses was a law passed in 1883 to force Indian people to give up their music, language and customs. I spent my life finding ways to break this code and learned that one small woman, when motivated by love, can make a difference in the lives of others. It’s a good lesson!

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of forty books, including Something Worth Doing, One More River to Cross, Everything She Didn’t Say, All Together in One Place, A Light in the Wilderness, The Memory Weaver, This Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and
the 2016 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Jane divides her time between Central Oregon and California with her husband, Jerry, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Caesar.

Learn more at www.jkbooks.com.

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