Momaday, N. Scott (Literary Masters)
1934: Navarro Scott Momaday is born on 27 February to Alfred Morris Momaday and Mayme Natachee Scott Momaday at the Kiowa and Comanche Indian Hospital in Lawton, Oklahoma. In the summer the family travels to Devils Tower, a rock formation in northeastern Wyoming; from this journey Momaday receives the Kiowa name Tsoai-talee (Rock-Tree Boy).
1936: The Momaday family leaves Oklahoma, moving to the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico.
1943: After moving to several different towns in Arizona, the Momadays move to Hobbs, New Mexico, where Momaday’s father works for an oil company and his mother works for the civilian personnel office at Hobbs Army Air Base.
1946: The Momaday family moves to Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, where both parents take teaching jobs at Jemez Day School.
1951: After attending various schools in New Mexico, Momaday completes his secondary education at the Augustus Military Academy in Fort Defiance, Virginia.
1952: Momaday begins studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
1956: Momaday enters the prelaw program at the University of Virginia.
1957: Momaday returns to the University of New Mexico.
1958: Momaday graduates from the University of New Mexico with a major in English and a minor in speech. He takes a teaching job at the Dulce Independent School on the Jicarilla Apache reservation in Duke, New Mexico.
1959: In Dulce, Momaday meets and marries Gaye Mangold, with whom he has three daughters: Cael, Jill, and Britt. His first published poem, “Los Alamos,” appears in the New Mexico Quarterly. He wins a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship to attend Stanford University.
1962: Momaday wins the Academy of American Poets Prize for “The Bear.”
1963: Momaday earns a doctorate in English at Stanford. He begins teaching at the University of California at Santa Barbara and publishes a short story, “The Well,” in Ramparts.
1965: Momaday’s dissertation is published as The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman.
1966: Momaday receives a Guggenheim Fellowship for study of the intellectual background of Tuckerman’s poetry, and he moves to Amherst, Massachusetts to do his research.
1967: Momaday’s The Journey of Tai-me is published.
1968: Momaday’s first novel, House Made of Dawn, is published.
1969: Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain is published. He receives the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for House Made of Dawn and is named Outstanding Indian of the Year by the American Indian community. Momaday begins teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, and is initiated into the Gourd Dance Society of the Kiowa tribe.
1972: Momaday joins the faculty at Stanford but immediately takes a leave of absence to serve as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Humanities at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. He begins writing a weekly column for Viva: Northern New Mexico’s Sunday Magazine.
1973: Colorado: Summer/Fall/Winter/Spring, a book of photographs with text by Momaday, is published.
1974: Momaday returns to Stanford and then takes a position as a visiting professor at the University of Moscow in the Soviet Union. His Angle of Geese and Other Poems is published. He begins sketching and drawing seriously.
1976: Momaday’s The Names: A Memoir and a poetry collection, The Gourd Dancer, art published. A series of prose poems, The Colors of Night, is published in an illustrated, limited edition.
1978: Momaday marries Regina Heitzer, whom he met while serving as a visiting professor at the University of Regensburg in Germany and with whom he has one daughter.
1979: Momaday has his first one-man show of artwork at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
1980: Momaday receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
1981: Momaday moves to Tucson, Arizona, to begin teaching at the University of Arizona. His father dies.
1989: Momaday’s second novel, The Ancient Child, is published.
1992: Momaday’s In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991 is published.
1994: A play by Momaday, The Indolent Boys, premieres at Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, New York.
1997: Momaday’s The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages is published.
1999: Momaday’s In the Bear’s House is published.
About N. Scott Momaday
N. Scott Momaday was born on 27 February 1934 at the Kiowa and Comanche Indian Hospital in Lawton, Oklahoma. He is the only child of Mayme Natachee Scott Momaday and Alfred Morris “Al” Momaday, whose Kiowa name was Huan-toa, or War Lance. The newborn’s name on the birth certificate appeared as Navarro Scotte Mammedaty, even though his father had changed his last name from Mammedaty to Momaday two years earlier. On the certificate Momaday had first been written in but was then crossed out. When the infant was only six months old, his parents took him to Devils Tower, a rock formation in northeastern Wyoming for which he received his Kiowa name, Tsoai-talee,’or Rock-Tree Boy. In his memoir, The Names (1976), Momaday writes that his great-grandfather Pohd-lohk (Old Wolf) gave him this name to commemorate the Kiowa story of Tsoai (Rock Tree, the Kiowa name for Devils Tower). Momaday stresses the significance of the name in the memoir: “My name is Tsoai-talee. I am, therefore, Tsoai-talee; therefore I am.” In a conversation with Charles L. Woodard, he described the importance of his naming: “It...
(The entire section is 4328 words.)
Momaday at Work
By the time House Made of Dawn was published in the spring of 1968, a revised version of Momaday’s doctoral dissertation had already been published as The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman; several of his poems, stories, and sketches had appeared in various literary journals; and he had had privately printed The Journey of Tai-me (1967), a collection of Kiowa tales that he later worked into The Way to Rainy Mountain. But House Made of Dawn was Momaday’s first major literary publication, and it constituted a major breakthrough for him. As he said in one interview, “it was a little hard to follow that act, you know, because here a first novel, and a first novel by an Indian, was given a major prize.”1
Momaday first conceived of House Made of Dawn as a book-length poem, and he had been working on it for several years in verse before it took final shape as a novel. By the time he submitted a draft to an editor for consideration, he had already published several prose...
(The entire section is 5980 words.)
Momaday was born during the Great Depression in Oklahoma, the land of dust bowls, bankruptcies, and farm repossessions. The year of his birth, 1934, was also the year of the Indian Reorganization Act, a piece of legislation that embodied the federal govern-ment’s effort to alleviate some of the hardships caused by the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 and other detrimental policies initiated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in previous decades. (The allotment act had provided for the distribution of reservation land among individual Indians, but it actually led to a worsening of conditions on the reservations.) It had been only ten years earlier, in 1924, that Congress had finally awarded citizenship to American Indians.
During World War II, Momaday lived in New Mexico, where scientists were developing the atomic bomb. Although he was too young to serve in the military, other reservation Indians were signing up for the armed services, fighting in both the Pacific and Europe. In the Cold War years of the 1950s Momaday was receiving his education in places across the country: New Mexico, Virginia, and California. During the Indian rights,...
(The entire section is 5846 words.)
- ART IMITATING LIFE
- MOMADAY’S WORKS IN HISTORY
- ADAPTATIONS OF MOMADAY’S WORKS
- PUBLIC RESPONSE
The Journey of Tai-me. Santa Barbara, Cal.: Privately printed, 1967.
Before House Made of Dawn appeared, Momaday published a small edition, limited to one hundred handprinted copies, of The Journey of Tai–me. Tai–me, the Sun Dance fetish of the Kiowas, is a medicine bundle whose power is inherent and whose safekeeping is the responsibility of an official tribal Tai–me keeper. As Momaday explained in an interview, it is “a fetish which is medicine. And it was the most powerful medicine in the tribe. The only time it was exhibited to view was during the Sun Dance.”1The journey of the title refers to the generations–long migration of the Kiowas from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in northwestern Wyoming to Rainy Mountain in southwestern Oklahoma. The book provides an account of that migration, an account that served as the basis for Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain, published two years later. Like that later book, The Journey of Tai-me...
(The entire section is 27755 words.)
Momaday on Momaday
- MOMADAY’S NAME
- ON NAMING
- BEING KIOWA
- ANOTHER VIEW
- ABOUT THE NAVAJO
- AN INDIAN WORLD
- BECOMING AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR
- ON WRITING POETRY
- ON POETRY
- PROSE AND POETRY
- ON PAINTING
- ON BEARS
- ON THE ENVIRONMENT
I can almost see into the summer of a year in my childhood. I am again in my grandmother’s house, where I have come to stay for a month or six weeks—for a time that bears no common shape in my mind, neither linear nor round, but it is a deep dimension, and I am lonely in it. Earlier in the day—or in the day before, or in another day—my mother and father have driven off. Somewhere on a road, in Texas, perhaps, they are moving away from me, or they are settled in a room away, away, thinking of me, or not, my father scratching his...
(The entire section is 3928 words.)
Momaday as Studied
In a conversation with Charles L. Woodard, responding to a question about writing and the oral tradition, Momaday stated that “there is a tendency when you’re talking about oral tradition to want to distinguish it as much as you can from written traditions, and of course the distinctions are real, but I think at some point the two traditions come very close together, and perhaps merge.” Indeed, given his reliance on characteristics of the oral tradition in his writing, oral narrative is possibly the single most important genre for Momaday. As ironic as this might seem for an artist of the written word, he maintains that the “oral tradition helps us to understand that words are more valuable than we have been led to believe. It demonstrates the importance of memory and the importance of listening carefully.”1 Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez makes a similar point in a discussion of Momaday: “we cannot really draw strict and definitive lines between those literatures that are oral versus those that are textual, nor should we want to.”
(The entire section is 9544 words.)
- What stereotypes concerning American Indians are commonly encountered? How do these stereotypes appear in the context of Momaday’s works? How does he challenge or reinforce the stereotypes?
- What generalizations can be made about Momaday’s sense of place? How is place (or landscape, or the land itself) an important component of his writing? What similarities can be identified between the landscape in House Made of Dawn and the characters themselves? What, for example, is Francisco’s relationship to the land? How is Angela like the city she comes from (and to which she eventually returns)?
- Some critics have argued that Momaday stereotypes his female characters. What generalizations can be made about his representations of women? What is Milly’s or Angela’s role in House Made of Dawn? Grey’s or Lola’s role in The Ancient Child?
- Animals seem to have important roles in much of Momaday’s work. What is the role of the eagle or the snake in House Made of Dawn, or that of the horse or bear in The Ancient Child?
- Religion and ritual play important parts in much of Momaday’s prose. How may his presentation of the Catholic Church, for instance, be compared with his depictions of Pueblo religious ritual practices, Navajo beliefs, or the Pan-Indian rituals in Los Angeles in House Made of Dawn?
- Momaday has often...
(The entire section is 816 words.)
The Ancient Child. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Angle of Geese and Other Poems. Boston: Godine, 1974.
Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story. Santa Fe, N. Mex.: Clear Light, 1994.
Colorado: Summer/Fall/Winter/Spring. New York: Rand McNally, 1973.
The Colors of Night. San Francisco: Arion, 1976.
The Gourd Dancer. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
House Made of Dawn. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
In the Bear’s House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
In the Presence of the Sun: A Gathering of Shields. Santa Fe, N. Mex.: Rydal, 1991.
In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
The Journey of Tai-me. Santa Barbara, Cal.: Privately printed, 1967.
The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
The Names: A Memoir New York: Harper &...
(The entire section is 3118 words.)