I am thrilled to present this first Arts & Humanities Dean’s Teaching Award to Dr. Greg Sarris, who has held the Graton Rancheria Endowed Chair in Creative Writing and Native American Studies in the School of Arts & Humanities at Sonoma State University since 2005.
During the past fifteen years, Greg has taught over 1000 students in courses including Native American Literatures, Native Cultures of Northern California, Introduction to Fiction Writing; Memoir Writing, American Literature, Creative Writing, and various special topics courses. Greg regularly receives the highest student evaluation scores attainable.
Greg is also one of the most productive writers and scholars in the history of Sonoma State University. He is the author of six books and scores of scholarly works and essays. He has won awards for his fiction and for screenplay writing, when his 1996 novel Grand Avenue was made into a widely praised film. Greg works with professional theatre groups producing plays written by himself and students. This year Heyday Books gave him a lifetime achievement award even though he has a great deal of important work yet to be published that will strengthen his reputation as one of our nation’s most important Native American fiction writers.
Greg is also a widely recognized public intellectual, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a recently elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the first Sonoma State faculty member to receive this honor. He gives keynote addresses regularly across California. He has lectured in our Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series. He is a philanthropist and community leader, leading the economic development of Sonoma County through the development of the Graton Resort & Casino that has transformed the local economy, provided jobs to scores of Sonoma State students.
At the heart of this teaching award is Greg Sarris the teacher. The comments in Greg’s student evaluations since 2005 are evidence of superstar teaching beyond the headlines and the spotlight. Here is a representative sample:
“I loved Greg as a professor! Very intelligent and understanding, and constantly engaged with everyone in the course to assist in improving our personal writing.”
“This is my favorite class that I’ve ever taken at Sonoma State.”
“Prof. Sarris has brought Native American local history to many students and made it come alive! It was astonishing to hear what has happened to his heritage. Although the subject matter he presents is basically his oral history of his culture, I soon realized this is the only way to tell it for now, until it becomes more widely recognized and ‘mainstream’ if you will. This is a subject no one wants to acknowledge and I comment Prof. Sarris for standing up for his people’s rights and regaining tribal recognition.”
“He is very open and honest with feedback while remaining kind and directing the conversation toward constructive criticism.”
“I didn’t need this course at all for graduation but I’ve taken classes with Greg before and love his teaching. I always get quality feedback on my work”
“He is one of the best most qualified to teach a workshop on fiction”
“This course has been one of my favorites at SSU. Learning something that I should have known a long time ago is amazing.”
“It’s nice taking a writing course from someone who is excited about writing and who you can see loves teaching.”
“This class is the best thing I did in college and I didn’t need to take it all for my major and I didn’t need the credits. The class felt like family and I had so much fun—and I got to leave with a piece of work that I can be proud of.”
“This class was excellent. It was my second time taking this course and the content and professor are excellent. He is thoughtful, wise, engaging, and respectful towards all of his students. This is the blueprint for what a creative writing class should be.”
“The professor stands out from others I have had because he has spent more time actively participating in what is he lecturing on than actually lecturing on it and therefore knows what he is talking about.”
“This class was so incredibly interesting. I knew close to nothing about the Native American Indians before this class and now I know so many interesting things about the Indians that inhabited the lands around Sonoma State University. I believe I have become more respectful of people and my surroundings this semester through this class and I am happy I took this course. I would recommend everyone take this class, especially if they are from the Bay Area or north.”
“Greg Sarris is one of the most influential, concise, and altruistic professors I have had at SSU. His course has been so incredibly useful.”
“I am so thankful I took a creative writing class with Greg Sarris. I can honestly say it was the most useful and inspiring class I have taken at this school”
“The most rewarding and interesting course I have taken at this school”
“So far no other course has connected to Sonoma County like NAMS 165 [Native American Cultures] does for its students.”
The praise goes on and on. In the words of Provost Karen Moranski, “Greg Sarris’s prodigious talents as a teacher and a scholar combined with his commitment to social justice have benefited our students and our community for over fifteen years. His support for student success speaks to our priorities and values as a campus. Greg is wholly deserving of this inaugural Arts & Humanities Teaching Award.”
Dr. Hollis Robbins, Dean of Arts & Humanities