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Special Collections Online at UT

Marilou Awiakta Papers

Identifier: MS-3909

  • Staff Only

This collection consists of materials about Marilou Awiakta's professional and personal life.

Series I: Abiding Appalachia - This series documents Awiakta's first book, Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet. The series consists of related correspondence, drafts, talks and events material, and more.

Series II: Rising Fawn - This series documents Awiakta's second book, Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery. The series consists of book reviews, page proofs, correspondence, and more.

Series III: Selu - This series documents Awiakta's third book, Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom. The series consists of book reviews, press releases, correspondence, and more.

Series IV: Personal Life and Other Works - This series contains materials from Awiakta's personal life including family documents and photographs as well as correspondence. It also includes material related to other projects taken on by Awiakta as well as newsletters, publications by other authors, and material related to various conferences, talks, and events.

Series V: Oversize - This series contains oversized newspapers, art, magazines, and posters.


  • 1926-2012
  • Majority of material found in 1975-2005

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite and must be requested in advance. See for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.

Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


9.5 Linear Feet


This collection consists of materials documenting author Marilou Awiakta's professional and personal life.

Biographical / Historical

Nationally and internationally known as a poet, essayist, and storyteller, Marilou Awiakta is also an activist, community leader, and environmental advocate. She weaves her Cherokee and Appalachian heritages with her experience of growing up during the nuclear era in Oak Ridge, TN (a “Secret City” for atomic research) to address current issues and emphasize how important respect, harmony, and diversity are to the web of life. Her work has influenced change at local, national, and international levels for cultural diversity, protection of the environment, women’s rights, and civil rights.

In August 2020, she made a mark in history as one of ten women chosen from Tennessee and 500 nationwide for USA TODAY’S Women of the Century commemorating the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary giving women the right to vote. Recognizing women who helped change and are still changing America, Dolly Parton, Pat Summitt, and Wilma Rudolph represent some of Tennessee’s notables while nationwide examples include Oprah Winfrey, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Georgia O‘Keefe, and Madeleine Albright.

Marilou Awiakta was born in Knoxville, TN, on January 24, 1936. Graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with an English/French double major and marrying Paul Thompson in 1957, the pair moved to Memphis and then to Laon, France, in 1964 where Paul practiced as a physician while she was a social liaison translator at the U. S. Air Force Base. In 1967, they returned to Memphis.

Her first book, Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet (published 1978), includes poems about her life experiences growing up in the "Secret City" of Oak Ridge during the nuclear era and World War II’s Manhattan Project. Her second book, Rising Fawn and The Fire Mystery (published 1983), is about a young Choctaw girl’s experiences during the 1833 Chocktaw Removal. The Memphis Arts Council used Rising Fawn for a citywide school program as did the school system in Aukland, New Zealand. Both books were selected for the U.S. Information Agency’s 1986 Global Tour of American Writers.

Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother's Wisdom (published 1993) features an intricate weaving of poems, storytelling, and essays about justice and survival as readers are introduced to the Corn-Mother, Selu, who signifies the Life Force of the Cherokee traditional survival principles such as strength, respect, balance, adaptability, and cooperation. These common-sense teachings have a direct bearing on the concerns of today’s society.

Selu addresses stark issues such as the Tellico Dam controversy in East Tennessee, reunion of the Cherokee Councils of East and West, nuclear energy dilemma, perception of a “woman’s place,” and how our lives weave into the web of life. Chosen as a 1994 Quality Paperback Book Club Selection, the audio version received a 1996 Grammy Award nomination. A quotation from Selu is engraved in Nashville TN’s River Wall of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall, and the poem “Motheroot” is inlaid in the University of California’s Fine Arts Walkway, Riverside, CA. Selu has been used in numerous college/university curriculums throughout the U.S. including Radford University/VA, Tufts and Brown Universities/MA, Vanderbilt/TN, Emory University/GA, and the University of New Mexico/NM.

In Selu’s forward, Wilma Mankiller, principal Chief of Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation, said “As you read through this extraordinary book, you will be helped onto a path that will enable you to gain a clear sense that there is a way we can stop destroying the very world that sustains us, and we can return to a time of balance and harmony.”

Biography provided by Marilou Awiakta's daughter, Aleex Conner.


This collection consists of nine record boxes, one half box, and one flat box. It is divided into five topical series and many of the files are based on the creator's original arrangement.

Separated Materials

Published versions of Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet, Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery, and Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom can be found in Rare Books.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA