Leslie Marmon Silko was born with a diverse heritage derived from her mixed ancestry (Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, and white). Much of her work examines the culture of Native Americans as it conflicts and combines with those of Mexican Americans and Anglo-Americans in the Southwest. Her biography, mostly revealed through her stories, resonates with the pain of cultural collisions and racism. It also acknowledges, in a self-assured tone, the value of multiplicity, of perceiving things in more than one way as a method of surviving in the modern world.
Vital to Silko’s upbringing was her great-grandmother, Marie Anaya. Married to Silko’s paternal great-grandfather, Robert G. Marmon, a pioneer who moved from Ohio to settle in New Mexico, Marie was known to Silko as Grandma A’Mooh (“A’Mooh” is a Laguna expression of love). A’Mooh cared for Silko when she was a baby and lived into her eighties while Silko grew up. She told Silko many stories of earlier, difficult times, of the ancient traditions that had sustained the Laguna people.
Equally important are Silko’s memories of her great-grandfather Stagner, his wife, Helen, and their daughter Lillie, who was Silko’s grandmother. Helen, of the Romero family near Los Lunas, New Mexico, represents the Mexican influence on Silko’s life and work, making Spanish as important to her as English and the Indian language of Laguna. Silko acknowledged the vital connections between generations of her family when she dedicated Ceremony (1977) to both her grandmothers, Jessie Goddard Leslie and Lillie Stagner Marmon, and her sons, Robert William Chapman and Cazimir Silko.
Perhaps the most significant contributor to Silko’s early perceptions and later work was her father, Lee H. Marmon. A talented amateur photographer, he experienced racism as a young boy when he was denied entrance to an Albuquerque hotel while his light-skinned father was told he was welcome anytime (Hank Marmon, Silko’s grandfather, refused to patronize the hotel for the rest of his life). Like the protagonist of Ceremony, Lee Marmon fought in World War II; his photographic records of the life to which he returned—the Laguna and Paguate villages, the Marmon Trading Post, his daughters, the deer hunts, the desert stretches of New Mexico and Arizona—contribute to the richly patterned texture of Storyteller (1981).
In addition to Silko’s ethnic heritage, the landscapes of her life have profoundly influenced her writing. Most of her work incorporates the distinctive geography around Albuquerque, where she was born, and the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, where she grew up. In contrast to the mountains and mesas of her childhood, Silko, in some of her stories,...
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