The Serpent's Plumes

Contemporary Nahua Flowered Words in Movement

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Table of contents


Introduction: The Serpent's Quills, Keyboards, and Touchscreens: Writing, Not Being Written

1. More Mexican Because We Speak Mexican: Natalio Hernández Transgressing the Borders of Nationalist Discourse

2. Ritual Shouts of the Forgotten: Anti-colonial Protest in Martín Tonalmeyotl's Tlalkatsajtsilistle

3. Grinding Words: Ethel Xochitiotzin Pérez's Subversion of Nahua and Nation-State Patriarchy in Tlaoxtika in tlajtoli

4. Words of Water: Fluid Nahua Identities in Judith Santopietro's Palabras de agua

5. Redressing the Eagle and Feathered Serpent: Mardonio Carballo's Trans-Indigenous Dialogues and Descolonizing Contrapunteo

6. Nahuatl Language and Territory as Coping Strategies in Ateri Miyawatl's Neijmantototsintle (2018) and Tsintatak (2020)

Conclusion: Slinging Xochitlajtoli at Dams: A Prismatic Project(ion) of Contemporary Nahua Literature


Draws on Nahua concepts to explore Nahua literary production and contributions to cultural activism from the 1980s to the present.


The Serpent's Plumes analyzes contemporary Nahua cultural production, principally bilingual Nahuatl-Spanish xochitlajtoli, or "poetry," written from the 1980s to the present. Adam W. Coon draws on Nahua perspectives as a decolonizing theoretical framework to argue that Nahua writers deploy unique worldviews—namely, ixtlamatilistli ("knowledge with the face," which highlights the value of personal experiences); yoltlajlamikilistli ("knowledge with the heart," which underscores the importance of affective intelligence); and tlaixpan ("that which is in front," which presents the past as lying ahead of a subject rather than behind). The views of ixtlamatilistli, yoltlajlamikilistli, and tlaixpan are key in Nahua struggles and effectively challenge those who attempt to marginalize Native knowledge production.

Adam W. Coon is Associate Professor of Latin American Studies and Spanish at the University of Minnesota Morris.


"Written in a luminous and engaging style, The Serpent's Plumes provides an extraordinary survey of poetry and prose works by contemporary Nahua writers in Mexico and the United States. While many readers know Nahua poetry through colonial works (such as Cantares Mexicanos), this book reminds us of the relevance of works by contemporary Nahua authors not merely as heirs to an admired literary tradition but as highly accomplished artists who bravely confront racism, discrimination, historical oblivion, and patriarchal hegemony in their work." — David Tavárez, author of Rethinking Zapotec Time: Cosmology, Ritual, and Resistance in Colonial Mexico