Reading the West 4-26-10
N. Scott Momaday is the 2010 recipient of the Owen Wister Award from Western Writers of America, an award given for lifetime achievement in the field of literature of the West. Momaday is best known for his work, “House Made of Dawn,” a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature, and “The Way to Rainy Mountain.” He was born at the Kiowa and Comanche Indian Hospital in Lawton, Okla., in 1934, and reared on Apache and Navajo lands in the Southwest.
Momaday’s creativity comes from his mother, Natachee Scott Momaday, a poet and author of the children’s book, “Owl in the Cedar Tree,” and his father, Alfred Momaday, a full-blooded Kiowa who became a painter in part due to influence from the Kiowa Five, a group of artists from Anadarko, Okla., who became recognized for their representational, narrative style using ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life as subject matter.
Although Momaday only lived a short time in Oklahoma, he was later greatly influenced by the landscape there. In “The Way to Rainy Mountain Momaday” describes the place: “A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornadic winds arise in the spring, and in summer the prairie is an anvil’s edge. The grass turns brittle and brown, and it cracks beneath your feet.
Momaday, who has the Kiowa name Tsoai-talee (Rock-Tree-Boy), is the poet laureate for the Kiowa Tribe. Among his earliest published writings were poems. “Earth and I Give You Turquoise” was first published in the New Mexico Quarterly, in the summer of 1959. “Los Alamos” appeared in the next issue with other poems to follow including “The Bear,” “Buteo Regalis,” “The Hawk King,” and “Pit Viper.”
He attended the University of New Mexico, taught briefly on the Jicarilla Apache reservation in Duke, New Mexico, and was awarded the Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship to attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. This led him firmly to a life involved with literature.
Studying at Stanford, he learned more about poetry. Ultimately he completed a doctorate and his dissertation was published by Oxford University Press in 1965 as “The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman.” He followed that with the publication of “The Journey of Tai-me,” a collection of Kiowa stories to honor his grandmother, Aho, who had died in 1963. He was simultaneously invited to submit poetry to the publishing company, Harper and Row, but turned the world of Western literature – and more specifically literature of American Indians – on fire when he instead wrote a novel, the work that was ultimately published as “House Made of Dawn,” released by Harper and Row in 1968 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize the following year.
The story involved a young Tano Indian who returned to his home village after serving in World War II to find himself sandwiched between his grandfather and the old wars, and an urban America moving toward increased materialism.
“The Way to Rainy Mountain” was published in 1969. Later Momaday would write more poetry including the collection, “The Gourd Dancer,” a memoir of his childhood, “The Names: A Memoir” and other work including “The Ancient Child,” “In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems,” “The Indolent Boys” (a play), “The Man Made of Words” and “In The Bear’s House.”
“N. Scott Momaday: Remembering Ancestors, Earth, and Traditions” by Phyllis S. Morgan with an introduction by Kenneth Lincoln, is just out from the University of Oklahoma Press. This comprehensive annotated bibliography of Momaday’s published work, including a brief biography of the author, is the most comprehensive resource available on Momaday and his work.
The bibliography includes detail about Momaday’s books, stories, essays, poems, newspaper columns, forewords and introductions, play scripts and interviews. It also highlights his awards and the recognition he has earned over a lifetime of writing.
Momaday, who lives in Santa Fe, continues to write every day adding to that very body of work.
The Wister Award will be presented at the annual Western Writers of America Convention in Knoxville, Tennessee on June 26.
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