Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Christina Smith

(1946-11-07) November 7, 1946 (age 77)
San Francisco, California, US
  • Writer
  • artist
  • activist

Chrystos (/ˈkrɪsts/; born November 7, 1946, as Christina Smith)[1] is a writer and activist who has published various books and poems that explore Indigenous Americans's civil rights, social justice, and feminism. They self-identify as Menominee and two-spirit, but are not a citizen of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin or any other Native American tribe.[2][3] Chrystos is also a lecturer, writing teacher and fine-artist. The poet uses the pronouns "they" and "them".

Life and career


Chrystos – a resident of Ocean Shores, Washington since 2011[4] – is a lesbian- and two-spirit-identifying writer, artist and activist. Born in San Francisco, California, self-identifying as an urban Indian,[5] 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,[5] life with an abusive and depressed white mother, Virginia (née Lunkes) of Lithuanian and Alsatian descent, and a father they claims was Menominee, Fletcher L. Smith, who was a WW2 veteran. At the age of seventeen, Chrystos was placed into a mental institution. They fell into drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution during this time. They would be re-institutionalized several more times before deciding it was ineffective in helping their mental health issues.[6]

A self-described political poet, Chrystos was inspired by familial angst stemming from European American cultural hegemony,[7] and more positively influenced by the work of Audre Lorde, Joy Harjo, Elizabeth Woody, and Lillian Pitt, among others,[8] to produce a series of volumes of poetry and prose throughout the 1980s and 1990s (see bibliography below). Chrystos' work focuses on social justice issues, such as how colonialism, genocide, class and gender affect the lives of women and Indigenous peoples.[9] 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.[10][11] The works are also aimed at raising awareness of Native American heritage and culture, while breaking down stereotypes.[12] 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.[13]

While they’re better known for their poems about social justice, Chrystos also has a significant body of erotic poetry. This work has been called "delicious reading" [14] and adopts a celebratory tone, in contrast to the darker themes in their other work. They co-edited Best Lesbian Erotica 1999 with Tristan Taormino.

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.[12]

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.[4][15] In a 2010 interview with Black Coffee Poet,[16] Chrystos described their social justice interests as "diverse," citing abortion, wife-battering, and prisoner issues, although they acknowledge these issues are of "no immediate benefit" to them.

Impact on Native culture


Chrystos has demonstrated political activism for Native Americans by helping free controversial arrestees, Natives Norma Jean Croy and Leonard Peltier. [17]


  • This Bridge Called My Back (anthology) Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1981; contributor
  • Not Vanishing, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1988, ISBN 0-88974-015-1
  • Dream On, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1991
  • In Her I Am, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1993
  • Fugitive Colors, Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995, ISBN 1-880834-11-1
  • Fire Power, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0-88974-047-X
  • Some Poems by People I Like (anthology of 5 poets; Sandra Alland, editor) Toronto: SandrasLittleBookshop, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9739540-1-2; contributor
  • Best Lesbian Erotica 1999, Cleis Press, 1999, ISBN 1573440493; co-editor

See also



  1. ^ Valimaa, Virpi Maria Kristiina; Curtright, Lauren (1997). "Chrystos". Voices from the Gaps. hdl:11299/166121.
  2. ^ Brehm, Victoria (November 24, 1998). "Urban Survivor Stories: The Poetry of Chrystos". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 10 (1): 73–82. JSTOR 20739440. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  3. ^ "Chrystos". PoetryFoundation.org. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Chrystos: biography", Voices from the Gaps, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts, retrieved January 25, 2012
  5. ^ a b Brehm, Victoria (1998). "Urban Survivor Stories: The Poetry of Chrystos". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 10 (1): 73–82. ISSN 0730-3238. JSTOR 20739440.
  6. ^ "Chrystos — Making Queer History". November 11, 2017.
  7. ^ Chrystos (1988). Not Vanishing. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers.
  8. ^ Chrystos (1988). Not Vanishing. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers. p. 103.
  9. ^ Stone, Martha E. (September 22, 2004). "Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America". Reference & User Services Quarterly. 44 (1): 84–86.
  10. ^ Chrystos (1988). Not Vanishing. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers. p. 106.
  11. ^ Sorrel, Lorraine, "Not Vanishing", review in Off Our Backs. Washington: March 31, 1989. Vol. 19, No. 3.
  12. ^ a b "12 Incredible Indigenous LGBTQ Women and Two-spirit People You Should Know". Autostraddle. October 12, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  13. ^ "Interview With Chrystos". Black Coffee Poet. September 15, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  14. ^ "Chrystos | The Audre Lorde Project". February 20, 2012.
  15. ^ Local Authors, Bainbridge Public Library, March 26, 2011, archived from the original on January 19, 2012, retrieved January 25, 2012
  16. ^ "Interview With Chrystos". Black Coffee Poet. September 15, 2010. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  17. ^ https://www.makingqueerhistory.com/articles/2017/11/11/chrystos
  • Bealy, Joanne. "An Interview with Chrystos"; Off Our Backs, Vol. 33, September 2003, p. 11
  • E. Centime Zeleke. "Speaking about Language". Canadian Woman Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1996, pp. 33–35.
  • Retter, Yolanda. "Chrystos". Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America, Vol. 1. Edited by Marc Stein. Detroit: Scribner's; 2004, pp. 214–215,
  • "Chrystos", biographical entry at the Voices in the Gaps database of the University of Minnesota; 2009. (PDF download from the target page.)