There is no concise way to introduce Kinsale Hueston. She's an activist for indigenous rights and an Instagram influencer, a 2017 National Student Poet and a spoken word performer, a Los Angeleno and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, a Time Magazine Optimist cover star and a college sophomore at Yale. Her presence—in person, in her poetry, and in her Instagram posts—is a manifestation of her delightfully multifaceted identity. She is unable to be categorized, the epitome of Gen Z goodness.
"It's very layered," Hueston told me when I asked how she defined her identity, as a 19-year-old Diné poet. "For me, as a Native woman, I am thinking of a million things at once, and as a poet, that is so crucially tied to part of my identity, too. I step back and look at myself, and I always have something to decode or figure out." Hueston's poetry and Diné heritage exist symbiotically; poetry is a tool to explore her identity, and her Diné roots shape the style and subject of her poetry.
Hueston began producing poetry seriously after her grandmother died. "I was trying to navigate the grief that I felt after she passed away," Hueston said. It was her grandmother who had first taught her the power of good storytelling. "Diné people have a matriarchy in stories and names. They're passed down from the grandmothers to the mothers," she described. "That is always part of my poetry, because I have so many strong, wonderful women in my life on that side of my family."
Femininity and the empowerment of the female form are driving themes in Hueston's work. Her award-winning poems, "Grandmother" and "Monument Valleys, Or Our Bodies (Sister Song)," explore the relationship between the land of the Diné reservation, and the physical bodies of Diné women themselves. This land-body relationship analogy, as Hueston refers to it, reveals the degree to which Native women are victims of exploitation, specifically by white men. Just as Native lands have been stolen and exploited, so too have the bodies of a devastatingly large population of Native women. "All of my work is very, very closely tied to the issues that are very close to my heart, particularly the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Movement," Hueston said. "I write about that all the time, just because people don't know about it, and I think that because I have this platform, because of my art, I feel that I need to use it for this issue that I also am very passionate about."
Hueston's Instagram page, which now has over 11k followers, is a digital space where her activism, poetry, and personal life seep into one another. In one post, she pairs high-waisted jean shorts and her grandmother's traditional jewelry with her "Yale Native" T-shirt. In another, Hueston gives a thumbs-down in front of a gentrified dream-catcher stand at the Melrose Avenue Market. "Social media was always very secondary for me," Hueston told me when I asked her about the evolution of her online presence. "It was just something I had as a teenager before I really started writing poetry, and then when I was a National Student Poet, I realized people were finding my Instagram and following me. Then I did some really big shows, I had some really big articles, and then the designers that I was wearing to shows started reposting me, and my Instagram started getting way more followers, and I was like, Maybe I should tie this more closely to what I do professionally." Now, Hueston partners with various brands like Bethany Yellowtail, Cheekbone Beauty, and Orenda Tribe to promote women-owned Indigenous businesses on Instagram.
This summer, Hueston is on tour, traveling around the Southwest to lead workshops and poetry readings as a true one-woman show. She schedules her own gigs and itineraries, wrapping the roles of agent, manager, and performer into one. "I am proud of myself," Hueston told me. "It can be really hard and really scary, and I still make mistakes. I don't have an assistant or something like that, but I think it's really cool."
This isn't Hueston's first tour, and it won't be her last. She hopes to keep gigging, doing shows, and spreading her word for a long time to come. After graduating from Yale, she plans to attend law school to study tribal law, but that doesn't mean she will stop writing. "Poetry will always be a part of my life no matter what," Hueston said. "My activism and poetry live in parallels."