Poet and alchemist Ámbar Past was born in Durham, North Carolina, the descendent of a wheelwright who in 1840 became the first king of Poland. Past’s mother was a painter and her father a physician and junk collector. She grew up in Brooklyn, Chattanooga, El Paso, San Francisco, and in Oregon. At an early age, she became fascinated with books: she began making her own when she was four, wrote her first volume of poetry at age seven, and has worked in print shops since she was eleven.
A renegade housewife by the age of twenty-three, Past ran off to Mexico to live with the Indians and became a Mexican citizen. Luck would have it that she ended up in a place where everyone is considered to be a poet until proven otherwise, and where the book arts flourished for more than a thousand years before Cortez and his company showed up and burned the Mayan and Aztec libraries.
As an itinerate teacher of natural dyes for the National Indian Institute, she spent years living in mud huts among Native American people in remote areas of Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. For more than thirty years she has made her home in the highlands of Chiapas, principally in rural hamlets where she learned to speak Tzotzil. Past is the creator of the graphic arts collective Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders’ Workshop) in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. She also participated in the formation of Sna Jolobil, a weaving cooperative for Mayan artisans, and the Mayan writers collective Sna Jtz’ibajom.
Past’s first writings, Slo’il jchiltaktik
(Autobiographies of Tzotzil Women) and Bon
, a manual for Mayans on natural dyes, were published in Tzotzil. In Spanish, she has published a number of chapbooks of her own poetry and a children’s book, El bosque de colores
, in 1992. For thirty years she has worked in the collecting, recording, and translation of Tzotzil ritual poetry. Her poems and stories have been published in anthologies around the world.
Past has traveled widely in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia where she has worked as a circus performer, housewife, amber carver, papermaker, silkscreen printer, soap maker, Thai chef, and as a reporter for a Chinese-English newspaper. She is the founder and director of the prize-winning journal for art and literature La Jicara
. Past is the mother of artist Tila Rodríquez-Past, and she is currently preparing a collection of her stories, Men I Never Slept With
Biography courtesy of Ámbar Past
Director (Administration), Founder, Poet, Publisher, Reporter, Teacher, Traveler, Writer, Alchemist, Chef, Circus Performer
The Book as Art: Twenty Years of Artists' Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts