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N(avarre) Scott Momaday Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Lawton, Oklahoma, 1934. Education: The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, A.B. 1958; Stanford University, California (creative writing fellow, 1959), A.M. 1960, Ph.D. 1963. Career: Assistant professor, 1963-67, and associate professor, 1967-69, University of California, Santa Barbara; professor of English and comparative literature, University of California, Berkeley, 1969-72; professor of English, Stanford University, 1972-80. Since 1980 professor of English and comparative literature, University of Arizona, Tucson. Professor, University of California Institute for the Humanities, 1970; Whittall Lecturer, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1971; visiting professor, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, 1972-73, State University of Moscow, Spring 1974, Columbia University, New York, 1979, and Princeton University, New Jersey, 1979; writer-in-residence, Southeastern University, Washington, D.C., 1985, and Aspen Writers' Conference, Colorado, 1986. Artist: has exhibited drawings and paintings. Since 1978 member of the Board of Trustees, Museum of the American Indian, New York. Awards: Academy of American Poets prize, 1962; Guggenheim grant, 1966; Pulitzer prize, 1969; American Academy award, 1970; Western Heritage award, 1974; Mondello prize (Italy), 1979; Western Literature Association award, 1983. D.H.L.: Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, 1970; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1975; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1980; Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York, 1980; College of Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1982; D. Litt.: Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, 1971; University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1976; College of Ganado, 1979; D.F.A.: Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, 1980.



House Made of Dawn. New York, Harper, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1969.

The Ancient Child. New York, Doubleday, 1989.

In the Bear's House. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999.


Angle of Geese and Other Poems. Boston, Godine, 1974.

Before an Old Painting of the Crucifixion, Carmel Mission, June 1960. San Francisco, Valenti Angelo, 1975.

The Gourd Dancer. New York, Harper, 1976.

In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991, illustrated by the author. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1992.


Owl in the Cedar Tree (for children). Boston, Ginn, 1965.

The Journey of Tai-me (Kiowa Indian tales). Privately printed, 1967; revised edition, as The Way to Rainy Mountain, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1969.

Colorado: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, photographs by DavidMuench. Chicago, Rand McNally, 1973.

The Names: A Memoir. New York, Harper, 1976.

Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story (for children).Santa Fe, New Mexico, Clear Light, 1994.

Editor, The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. NewYork, Oxford University Press, 1965.

Editor, American Indian Authors. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Editor, A Coyote in the Garden, by An Painter. Lewiston, Idaho, Confluence Press, 1988.

The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997.


Manuscript Collection:

Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Critical Studies:

Four American Indian Literary Masters by Alan R. Velie, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982; N. Scott Momaday: The Cultural and Literary Background by Matthias Schubnell, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1986; Approaches to Teaching Momaday's "The Way to Rainy Mountain" edited by Kenneth M. Roemer, New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1988; Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday (includes bibliography) by Charles L. Woodard, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1989; Landmarks of Healing: A Study of "House Made of Dawn" by Susan Scarberry-Garcia, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1990; Place and Vision: The Function of Landscape in Native American Fiction by Robert M. Nelson, New York, Lang, 1993; Conversations with N. Scott Momaday, edited by Matthias Schubnell, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

* * *

In a 1971 lecture at Colorado State University, N. Scott Momaday said:

At one time in my life I suddenly realized that my father had grown up speaking a language that I didn't grow up speaking, that my forebears on his side made a migration from Canada along with Athapaskan peoples I knew nothing about, and so I determined to find something out about these things and in the process I acquired an identity; and it is an Indian identity.

In acquiring his own Indian identity, Momaday has also created two novels which help to define identity for many Native Americans. When Momaday's first novel, House Made of Dawn, received the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1969 it was the first major recognition for a work of Native American literature and a landmark for those seeking to understand "Indian identity."

House Made of Dawn is the story of Abel, a Native American caught between two worlds, the traditional world of Indian heritage and the white man's world. Momaday employs sharply drawn imagery, multiple points of view, flashbacks, journal entries and sermons, and passages in italic print to create a complex tapestry of myth and recollection. The novel begins with a one-page prologue which depicts Abel marked with ashes and running through the beautiful dawn of a New Mexico landscape. The prologue is a ritual celebration, but the novel is the tale of the path the character ran to bring him to that place.

The novel recounts Abel's return to the reservation after World War II; his affair with Angela St. John, a rich Anglo woman; and his conflict with an albino Indian named Juan Reyes Fragua, whom Abel murders. The novel goes on to depict Abel's life in Los Angeles after he is paroled from prison, his involvement with the Los Angeles Indian community, his friendship with Ben Benally, his intimate relationship with a sympathetic social worker named Milly, and his conflict with a corrupt policeman. After being badly beaten, Abel returns to the reservation and learns from his grandfather how to get beyond the pain of living. This book presents a Native American view of the world and of reality. Abel is damaged by the white man's world, but he ultimately is healed when he understands his true home rests within a place of harmony with the natural world, a "house made of dawn."

The themes of the healing force of nature and of the Indian caught between two worlds resurface in Momaday's second novel, The Ancient Child. The novel's primary character is Locke Setman, or Set, a Kiowa artist in San Francisco who has been raised as an Anglo. Set is a successful landscape artist but a personal crisis develops when his Indian identity begins to assert itself. As Set attempts to find his bearlike Kiowa identity he is aided by a nineteen-year-old medicine woman named Grey who takes him first to his Kiowa homeland and then to the Navajo reservation.

Like House Made of Dawn, The Ancient Child is a novel told in a complex manner. The book contains traditional Native American tales of bears and lost and transformed children, the legend of Billy the Kid, the evolution of a young Indian girl into womanhood, and lyrical descriptions of nature. At its heart, however, the novel is about the cultural crisis most Native Americans must face: how do ancient peoples whose collective memories recall a once intact and beautiful land cope with what that land and their lives have become?

Momaday's most vital message is that native cultures must endure. In the same way that Set is healed by Grey, American culture can learn to heal its shattered and broken self if respect for the land and land's people can be regained.

Tom Colonnese

Additional topics

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