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Dennis and Barbara Tedlock. Photo courtesy of the National Geographic Society.

In celebration of fifty years of Resident Scholars at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), we will share a series of posts about the program and the scholars over the years.

The Resident Scholar photo gallery in the Billiard House at SAR has a certain renown.

When people visit, whether for a seminar or a tour or just to stop by, they spend a good deal of time looking at names and faces, determining who was their anthropology professor once upon a time or an advisor or wrote a book that changed the way they write or think.

One day while in the Billiard House, I turned away from the oldest photographs and felt sure that when I turned back and looked at the top row, at those first scholars in 1973 and onward, given the cultural time period, they would all be white men. When I looked, I immediately saw that I was wrong. Not only was there diversity of gender, but also of ethnicity and even age.

And there’s one couple who essentially “book-end” the scholars in that group from 1973 and to the 2000s: Barbara and Dennis Tedlock.

They were poet scholars. Both taught poetry in addition to anthropology. Both wrote their own poetry and participated in literary readings.

Their mission was to “expand and alter the ways in which anthropologists conduct and communicate their work,” expressed in just that way in the preface to the first issue of the American Anthropologist, which they edited as a husband and wife team from 1994-1998.  In 1997, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) gave them its President’s Award “for distinctive leadership in forging a new vision for the American Anthropologist.

Dennis Tedlock grew up in Albuquerque, his art on display in elementary school and winning journalistic awards in high school, while Barbara grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan. They met in 1968 at the University of California, Berkeley where Dennis was teaching after receiving his BA in Anthropology and Art History from the University of New Mexico and his PhD in Anthropology from Tulane University in New Orleans. Barbara was at UC Berkeley getting her BA in Rhetoric and studying modern poetry. She was assigned to be Dennis Tedlock’s teaching assistant.

“I loved his style of teaching,” remembered Barbara in an interview for The Buffalo News in 1995. “On our first date, Dennis took me home and made me New Mexico chile – really hot, and I had never had food like that. I thought, ‘Gee, this is a really interesting guy. First date he cooks for you.’”

At Berkeley, Dennis also met Jerome Rothenberg. Together they created the Alcheringa poetry magazine. Its aim was to explore the full range of humanity’s poetry and feature translations of non-Western writing.  Alcheringa, which means “in the dreamtime’ in Australian Aboriginal languages, proposed to be the first literary magazine “to provide an outlet for experiments in the translation and presentation of tribal and oral poetry.”

The Tedlocks and Rothenberg were all in Santa Fe on July 29, 1970 for a poetry reading at St. John’s College to launch the first edition of Alcheringa through a press in Cerrillos, New Mexico.

In the mid-1970s, they did fieldwork in Guatemala, studying K’iché (Quiché) Maya linguistics, religion, and verbal art. Unknowingly, they made cultural mistakes and Barbara became very ill. Seeking to find a cure, they were invited to receive training as “daykeepers,” which impacted the rest of their lives. They stayed up all night making the decision about whether or not to begin the training. Referring to how the decision to proceed changed her life, Barbara said the following in an interview in 2005, “And so, in other words, your head, your whole life is broken; it’s changed. You’re a new person and you’re distributed to the cosmos and you’ll never be the same after that.”

Barbara Tedlock received her PhD from SUNY Albany in 1978 with her dissertation: “Quiché Maya Divination.” This led to her book Time and the Highland Maya published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1982.

In 1980-1981, Barbara was a Weatherhead Fellow at the SAR with a project on Zuni aesthetics that led to her book The Beautiful and the Dangerous: Encounters with the Zuni Indians, published by the Viking Press in 1992.

Meanwhile, Dennis translated a Maya text, the Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings, which won the PEN Translation Prize in 1986. Dennis’ work is notable for incorporating collaboration with a modern K’iché daykeeper, Andrés Xiloj.

The Tedlocks had teaching appointments at Tufts University, Princeton, Yale, and various other places until they joined the staff at the University of Buffalo in New York in 1987.

They continued to travel back and forth between Santa Fe and New York. Dennis was a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) resident scholar at SAR in 2001-2002. His project led to the wide-sweeping book 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, published by the University of California Press in 2010.

Barbara was a Research Associate at SAR while Dennis was in residency. She completed the book The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine, published by Random House in 2005. Barbara stated in the SAR 2002 Annual Report that it was the first book “to place women and the feminine at the center of shamanism worldwide.”

SAR President Michael Brown remembers meeting the Tedlocks. He met Barbara first when she invited him to be part of an Advanced Seminar on dreaming in 1982. Brown contributed one of the chapters in the book that Barbara edited: Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Perspectives, published by Cambridge University Press in 1987.

“I was one of the more junior people in the room,” remembers Brown. “It was the first time I came to the campus.”

Dennis and Barbara remained partners in their work and marriage for 48 years until Dennis passed away in 2016. Barbara passed away in 2023.

To Dennis and Barbara, “every act of speech, writing, or doing has poetic dimension.” Together, they helped develop the then-emerging field of ethnopoetics.

“In both poetry and ethnography, the engagement with the world is a dialogical process – one of continual translation,” wrote Dennis in 1999.

Controversial personally and professionally pushing boundaries, Dennis and Barbara Tedlock made significant contributions to our understanding of what it means to be human.

NEXT WEEK: A big picture archaeologist whose residency at SAR helped progress his career


Annual Report 2002. School of American Research.

Briggs, Charles L. “Dennis Tedlock (1939-2016) Obituary.” American Anthropologist. Vol. 120, No. 4. December 2018.

Breaking the Maya Code. Filmed interview with Night Fire Films. February 11 and 12, 2005.

Continelli, Louise. “People Readers make their passion their profession.” The Buffalo News. July 9, 1995.

“Dennis Tedlock.” UBNow. August 23, 2016.

Interview with Michael F. Brown on May 10, 2024.

“Poetry, Drama of Indians in Spotlight In Program Today at St. John’s College.” The Albuquerque Journal. July 29, 1970.

Tedlock, Dennis. “Dennis Tedlock: Dreamtime, An Introduction to the Alcheringa Archive.” Poems and Poetics. November 27, 2011.

“To Present American Indian poetry Wednesday at St. John’s College here.” Santa Fe New Mexican. July 26, 1970.