Earle Thompson, 1950—2006

Pencil portrait of Earle Thompson by Jeremy Olson
Portrait of Earle Thompson by Jeremy Olson

Earle was a Native American who grew up on the Yakima Indian Reservation. He wrote with unaffected honesty of life on alcohol and the streets as easily as he wrote of the natural world and glimpses of Coyote. His work has been included in numerous anthologies and magazines, including 20th Century Native America Poets, Dancing on the Rim of the World, Akewon, AtlAtl, Argus, Blue Cloud Quarterly, Contact II, Greenfield Review, Prison Writing Quarterly and the Real Change anthology No Apologies. His first poetry chapbook was published by Blue Cloud Quarterly in the early 1970s; his last chapbook was published by Real Change in 2003. In a foreword to the Real Change chapbook, Sherman Alexie wrote, “His poems make me cry and laugh. His poems shake and change me. His poems are necessary, essential and elemental.”

From a Real Change feature on Earle Thompson:

“I never learned the 9-5 work ethic, but I learned a lot from my grandfather,” said Thompson. “He was a fisherman, a farmer, a gambler; he adapted. I learned you have to accept yourself and never feel bad about what you do.” Thompson, recently released from prison, is presently homeless, and is learning from the experience.

“I’ve been writing for 20 years, but only now an realizing what’s out on the streets. I never understood the survival ethic until I was on the street. It’s alien to anyone unless they’ve been there.”

“Really, all I care about is that someone is going to read my stuff and understand it. Communication is all there is.”

You can read a tribute to Earle from Sherman Alexie, and a collection of Earle’s poems, at the Earle Thompson Project.

Earle’s Leaf is located at Real Change.

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