Niatum's writing is deeply connected with the Northwest coast landscape, its mountains, forests, water and creatures. The legends and traditions of his ancestors help shape and animate his poetry. He has published numerous collections of poetry, including Ascending Red Moon Cedar (1974); Song for the Harvester of Dreams (1980), which won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award; and Drawings of the Song Animals: New and Selected Poems (1991).
In a review of The Crooked Beak of Love (2000) for Raven Chronicles, scholar David L. Moore observed, “Niatum’s intense love poems, so wrapped in an individual consciousness, tend toward tragedy, whereas his poems of nature and culture, striving for a voice rising on the wind in the cedars of his ancestors, tend toward reconciliation of history and promise.”
A former editor for Harper & Row’s Native American Authors series, Niatum also edited the Native American literature anthologies Carriers of the Dream Wheel (1975) and Harper’s Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry (1988). His own poetry has been widely anthologized and translated into more than a dozen languages. Several of his essays on American Indian literature and art have been published in the U.S. and Europe.
Niatum’s honors include residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts and Yaddo, the Governor’s Award from the State of Washington, and grants from the Carnegie Fund for Authors and the PEN Fund for Writers. He was four times nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has finished a manuscript of his Collected Poems.
Niatum lives in Seattle and has taught at Evergreen State College and the University of Washington, as well as area high schools.