When a great writer comes to town, those interested and absorbed with the written word are under some sort of responsibility to go and listen. When the writer is N. Scott Momaday, that responsibility should be obligatory. Like a worldly sage rising from the same desert landscapes that fill his poetry and prose, a night with Momaday promises to be not just interesting, not just intellectual, but almost holy. At the center of a Momaday reading is the speaker as storyteller. His appreciation and understanding of the oral traditions of American Indians are best conveyed through the spoken word; and Momaday's words are always profound--and profoundly felt. Wise and thoughtful, Momaday offers his audience a kind of wistful vision for humanity.
Momaday was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1934 and spent the first year of his life at his grandparents' home on the Kiowa Indian reservation. His parents, both teachers, moved to the southwest, eventually settling in New Mexico, where they taught in an Indian day school for 25 years. Momaday--a Kiowa by birth--spent his formative years on the Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo reservations of the southwest. It was a "Pan-Indian" experience that is often reflected in his work.
After receiving his BA at the University of New Mexico, Momaday earned his MA and Ph.D. from Stanford, where he specialized in the work of Emily Dickinson and Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. He is currently the Regents Professor of Humanities at the University of Arizona.
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his first novel, House Made of Dawn, Momaday has won several other awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage Humanities Prize, Academy of American Poets prize, and a Mondello, Italy's highest literary award. House Made of Dawn is the story of a young American Indian named Abel, home from a foreign war and caught between two worlds: his father's world of nature and the land and its changing seasons, and the world of industrial America, tempting him into a life of diversions and regrets. The prose in this novel is lyrical and haunting, as in this passage:
The canyon is a ladder to the plain. The valley is pale in the end of July, when the corn and melons come of age and slowly the fields are made ready for the yield, and a faint, false air of autumn-an illusion still in the land-rises somewhere away in the high north country, a vague suspicion of red and yellow in the farthest summits.
In his work The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday retells the Kiowa stories he learned from his grandmother Aho. A mix of Indian lore and personal narrative, the work traces the parallel history of the Kiowa culture and of Momaday himself.
In his collection of essays Man Made of Words, Momaday looks at the differences between oral and written cultures, Indians and the damage done by American government policies.
Much of Momaday's poetry and prose offers a vision of the world that carries a kind of austere hopelessness with it. A schism between mankind and nature is presented with an over arching message that suggests the separation will continue until humans become aware of their place in the landscape (hint: mini-malls and subdivisions are not the answer!). It is an important message to hear. But all is not so dire, as Momaday will certainly attest when he takes the stage at the Egyptian this week.
N. Scott Momaday appears as part of the Log Cabin Literary Center Readings and Conversations series on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets are $27 for members, $30 for nonmembers and are available by calling the Log Cabin at 331-8000.