Leslie Marmon Silko

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At a Glance

Leslie Marmon Silko is considered one of the great masters of Native American literature. She grew up near a Native American reservation but was never allowed to participate in the rituals of her people because of her mixed heritage. Perhaps in rebellion, she has always identified herself more strongly with her Laguna Pueblo roots than with her European ones. Though Silko has published many nonfiction works, including scathing criticisms of other writers’ works, she’s most famous for her first novel, Ceremony. Still widely read and studied in colleges across the United States today, Ceremony emphasizes the importance of reintegrating older traditions and knowledge into our lives—exactly what Silko herself has been doing since she was a young girl.

Facts and Trivia

  • Silko is the daughter of famous photographer Lee Marmon.
  • Silko’s first story, “The Man to Send Rainclouds,” won a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant. She was also awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1981.
  • Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead has been criticized because many of the book’s villains are homosexual.
  • Silko has been called the first Native American woman novelist, which is a staggering thought considering that Ceremony was published in 1977.
  • Silko grew up feeling isolated because neither white society nor the Laguna society fully accepted her. Her prominent family made the Laguna distrustful, but her skin color kept white society from embracing her. She has said, “I am of mixed-breed ancestry, but what I know is Laguna.”

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Biography

Leslie Marmon Silko is a critically acclaimed Native American author. Her mother, Mary Virginia Leslie, was part Cherokee and part Anglo, and her father, Leland Howard Marmon, was a mixed race Laguna Pueblo Indian. The Laguna Pueblo Indians are a tribe located in west central New Mexico. They take their name from the lake located on their reservation (“Laguna” means “lake” in Spanish). Leslie Marmon was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 5, 1948, and grew up near the Laguna Pueblo, northwest of Albuquerque. Because of her mixed heritage, she was not completely accepted into the Laguna tribe. Silko’s biographer Per Seyersted writes that Silko’s family “was included in clan activities but not to the same extent as full bloods." Nevertheless, the Laguna culture left deep impressions on her, and she often describes the beauty of the landscape that surrounded her childhood home on the Laguna Pueblo in her fiction and poetry. As a result of her mixed heritage, the challenges she faced growing up as a “mixed-blood” appear often as autobiographical elements in much of her writing. She explains that “the core of my writing is the attempt to identify what it is to be a half-breed or a mixed-blooded person; what it is to grow up neither white nor fully traditional Indian."

The Marmon family emphasized education and because the Indian school at the Laguna Pueblo was not very strong academically, Leslie attended a private school in Albuquerque. She went on to attend the University of New Mexico where she met her first husband, Richard Chapman. They married in 1966 and later that year, she had her first son, Robert William. Leslie and her husband divorced in 1969, the same year that she graduated summa cum laude in English from the University of New Mexico. She also published her first short story that year, “The Man to Send Rainclouds,” which she began in a creative writing class. After graduating from the University of New Mexico, Leslie was accepted into that institution’s American Indian Law School Fellowship Program. She dropped out of law school after three semesters because, in her words, the legal system “was designed by and for the feudal lords” and only meted out justice “to the rich and powerful.” She remarried an attorney, John Silko, in 1971 and began her career as a full-time writer. Her second son, Cazimir, was born in 1972.

Silko published her first...

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