contributing editors

William Wallis, Ph. D
Los Angeles Valley College

wallisBill Wallis was born in the American South and educated at Hendrix College, Southern Illinois University, the University of Nebraska ( Literary Criticism and Creative Writing, 1972), and the Hanover Conservatory (Opera Performance). In 1973, while a member of the faculty in Lincoln, he performed a supporting role in Napoleon, a grand opera that he co-authored. His opera The Vision, based on Lakota myth, story, and song, was set to music and performed as part of the American Bi-Centennial Celebration in the Great Plains.

Between 1978 and 1985, he worked as a stage director, then as a tenor singing operetta and opera in the European theater. After returning to the United States permanently in 1983, he began teaching and writing in Lincoln, Nebraska; and then Santa Barbara, California. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he is Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of English at Los Angeles Valley College. In 1992, he performed the World Premier of Robert Chauls’s Song Cycle “Songs of Great Men and Death” at the founding convention of the Emily Dickinson International Society in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor for Shofar Magazine at Purdue University Press.

He has published twenty volumes of poetry and prose. His volumes Joshua (1994), Twins (1996), and Selected Poems 1969-99 (2000) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Poetry Division. In 2006, his novel Hawk won the Benjamin Franklin Award in Popular Fiction of the Independent Publishers of America. His latest publication is a biography, Prairie Symphony, the Story of Charles Leonard Thiessen, which appeared in 2010. (His works are available on

He lives with his wife Leslie and their four children just off the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, where he is a cycling enthusiast.

Other Works:

Poet's Corner - Column Three (Spring 2013)

TMy first contact with the Lakota—the westernmost branch of the Teton Sioux Nation—occurred under inauspicious circumstances. While a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln 1969-72, I taught creative writing in the maximum security prison in south Lincoln, in a program created by Garnet Larson, a Professor of Social Work. Garnet was very involved in Lakota, as well as Omaha, culture, and she had made sure that several of the students in my first class were Lakota. Within weeks, I became intensely aware of what I had only marginally experienced to that point.

First, there was great antipathy between the Lakota and the Omaha. Within the prison walls, tension became murderous, and murder squads made up of “lifers” who had nothing to lose, could easily accomplish what might only be threatened in the world outside. I lost several of my students to this conflict, and after the particularly dreadful murder of a Lakota visual artist named Perry Wounded Shield during my second year of work at the pen, I demurred teaching there any longer.

My interest in things Native American was constant, however, and—my sixteenth portion of Cherokee blood notwithstanding—I became director of a project entitled “A Meeting of Cultures” which had as its aim two goals: the creation and premier of an opera based on Lakota myth, legend, and song; and the creation of educational materials to accompany performances of that opera. Both goals were accomplished for the bi-centennial celebration in 1976. The publication of the libretto for the opera and the educational materials occurred in 1977 and were endorsed by Akwasasne Notes, the Native American authority of the time.

Long before that, Prairie Schooner (XLV,3, Fall 1971, 207), had published my “Sitting Bull’s Evening Walk,” my finest poem of that time:
Darkly, dust settle on me. And still I walk heavily among them.
They flaming fall about my thighs, the dusk ripples
Of scything season. I rise, and they to me from the dusty river,
For my blood is rusted sweet—this I know
For every creature reaches to touch my treading thigh.

Sons, Children, you stretch taut in the burst dusk.
I lower my head, drink deeply of the greatness of your hearts.
Following the flower river, I graze north to the burnt hills,
The thrust of your blood in me—surging out to you—
Joins the crimson flood of the buffalo’s eye.
(These two stanzas should be single-spaced.)

My contact with the Omaha People was slight and ended bitterly. There is, in fact, a bittersweet taint to all my first-hand knowledge of Native American history, culture, literature, and music. Alcohol, factionalism, and despair had decimated the tribes before my peripheral involvement, my ghostly attempt to recognize the remarkable qualities of Lakota and Omaha culture before the washichu came. As a white I was held in abject suspicion, but we did our best; and, even when Lakota and Nebraska politics destroyed any possibility of completing our project as it was conceived, we brought our work—the opera Hanblecheya, Crying out for a Vision and the educational materials A Meeting of Cultures—to completion.

That period now seems dream-like in many aspects. To work with Native American culture is to live in a constant state of mourning, and this dark energy drives much of the literature produced by Lakota and Omaha artists. I am happy to read the bright words of Renee Sans Souci, in this issue of West Magazine. I wish her well in her quest for recognition. May her footsteps never be washed from the hillside. May she prosper in the light of her great people.

Bill Wallis, Nov. 30, 2012.

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