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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   



1. Native Voices

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Chippewa Songs
- Louise Erdrich
- Ghost Dance Songs
- Thomas Harriot
- Black Elk & John G. Neihardt
- Simon J. Ortiz
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Stories of the Beginning of the World
- Luci Tapahonso
- Roger Williams
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (b. 1948)

Korean War Army Veteran Ted Wood, an Abenaki Indian, in Full Dress Uniform (1998)
[6113] Rudi Williams, Korean War Army Veteran Ted Wood, an Abenaki Indian, in Full Dress Uniform (1998), courtesy of DefenseLINK News, U.S. Department of Defense.

Leslie Marmon Silko Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Leslie Marmon Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the house where her father was also born. She grew up in Old Laguna, a town formed several centuries ago by Pueblo tribes. Her family is of mixed descent, with Plains Indian, Mexican, and European ancestors. She has both Laguna and white ancestors on her father's side and Plains tribe blood from her mother's side. Even the Laguna part of her heritage is multicultural: Hopi, Jemez, Zuni, Navajo, and Spanish peoples have influenced its culture and oral traditions. Like Louise Erdrich, Silko explores mixed identity in many of her works, particularly the situation of being "neither white nor fully traditional Indian." Silko received her B.A. from the University of New Mexico—graduating magna cum laude in 1969—and after three semesters of law school decided instead to become a teacher and a writer. She published Laguna Woman, a collection of poems, in 1974 and her first novel, Ceremony, in 1977. In many ways Ceremony was a Laguna answer to N. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer prize-winning House Made of Dawn. Like Momaday, Silko weaves myth, history, and personal recollection, but in Ceremony the importance of the feminine landscape replaces the more male-centered story told by Momaday.

In Ceremony, Silko tells the story of Tayo, a mixed-blood Indian who fights in World War II and returns to Laguna physically intact but mentally fractured and deeply in shock from post-traumatic stress syndrome. As critic Greg Sarris puts it, the novel "is about a man who is displaced in World War II, taken away from his home, away from the stories, and about having to come home and reacquaint himself with, if you will, the landscape of who he is, his stories, what he knows from the landscape. And as he reacquaints himself with the landscape and the stories, he sees that his experience even in World War II was never disconnected. That in fact, from the one place we can see all places." This reconnection begins with the opening, in which we find Thought Woman, a mythic godlike figure, and Spider, creating a story. As the novel progresses, language heals both the characters and the readers; stories from the Pueblo oral tradition are interwoven with contemporary updates of traditional healing rituals and discussions of the development of the atomic bomb and uranium mining.

Among Silko's other works are Storyteller (1981), a collection of stories and poems; Almanac of the Dead (1991), a blistering, apocalyptic epic of North American minority, marginal, and underworld figures and their struggles for power; and Gardens in the Dunes (1999), which takes place around the turn of the twentieth century and explores the Ghost Dance and the cultural dismay of a young Laguna girl as she is taken in by a well-to-do white couple. Despite their often dark and disturbing qualities, all of Silko's works address the possibility of renewal or regeneration, particularly of American Indian cultures, values, and ways of life. This hope always rests in part with developing a nurturing and respectful relationship with the landscape of the Southwest. Place is never merely a "setting" in the Western sense; rather, it is inextricable from the life, values, and culture of a people—and their stories. The Laguna are a matrifocal community, and this worldview infuses Silko's work, which often retells female-centered myths around the figures of Yellow Woman and Thought/Spider Woman. Silko has said, "[Storytelling] is a way of interacting ... a whole way of seeing yourself, the people around you, your life, the place of your life in the bigger context, not just in terms of nature and location but in terms of what has gone on before, what's happened to other people. It's a whole way of life."



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