N. Scott Momaday
Navarre Scott Momaday (1934- ), a Native American of Kiowa and Cherokee descent, was raised in the American Southwest on various Native American reservations. His mother
and father both worked as teachers in Native American schools, but they
also pursued artistic interests: Momaday's mother was a writer, his father
|Courtesy, University New Mexico Press
Like his parents, Momaday has been both a teacher and writer. Since earning
a bachelor's degree at the University of New Mexico, and an M.A. and a Ph.D.
at Stanford, Momaday has held tenured appointments at the University of
California, Berkeley; UC Santa Barbara; Stanford; and the University of
Arizona. He has been honored for his poetry and prose with numerous awards:
His debut novel, House Made of Dawn, was the first by a Native American
author to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He has been the recipient of a
Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and
the Premio Letterario Internationale Mondello, Italy's highest literary
Momaday's work has greatly influenced other Native American authors, like
Joy Harjo and Leslie Marmon Silko. In fact, the structure and content of
Silko's Storyteller are in many ways similar to Momaday's The
Way to Rainy Mountain, and her award-winning Ceremony was influenced
by Momaday's House Made of Dawn. Momaday has also brought Native
American literature into a conversation of sorts with other traditions.
This is partially due to the fact that Momaday's work successfully combines
various literary styles. His poetry, for example, often employs heroic couplets
and blank verse. In this way, Momaday successfully celebrates traditional
Native American culture without isolating it from multicultural America.
Despite his willingness to draw on European and European-American literary
traditions, Momaday focuses his work on Native American culture. Interestingly,
he only came to explore that culture as an adult. "When I was in my early
30s," Momaday once said, "I began to wonder about my heritage, which I had
always taken for granted." Once Momaday began to investigate his heritage,
it quickly became the central focus of both his writing and his scholarship.
Perhaps more importantly, it seems to have become a personal mission for
Momaday to keep Kiowa culture alive. "When I go and walk among the stones
of Rainy Mountain cemetery, where my grandmother, in an unmarked grave,
and my aunt, dead in infancy, are buried," he says, "I am conscious of something
terribly important to my being. I could sense in that situation the vitality
in myself; I could sense it but could not take possession of it until I
translated it into language My poem 'Rainy Mountain Cemetery' is an act
of understanding. Beyond that, there is no other way." Through his poetry
and his innovative fiction and scholarship, Momaday has infused both Kiowa
and American culture with life.
Works by the Author