Leslie Marmon Silko Silko, Leslie Marmon

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(Short Story Criticism)

Leslie Marmon Silko 1948–-

American novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. See also Storyteller Criticism, Leslie Marmon Silko Literary Criticism (Volume 23), and Leslie Marmon Silko Literary Criticism (Volume 114).

Silko is considered among the foremost authors to emerge from the Native American literary renaissance of the 1970s. In her writings she blends such literary forms as the novel, short story, and narrative poem with the oral traditions of her Laguna Pueblo heritage to communicate Native American conceptualizations of time, nature, and spirituality. Silko focuses on characters, often of mixed Laguna Pueblo and Anglo heritage, who occupy the fringes of both Native American and Western cultures. Through their struggles they must draw on the moral strength of their native community and its traditions in order to overcome the often repressive, alienating effects of Anglo-American society.

Biographical Information

Of Laguna Pueblo, Plains Indian, Mexican, and Anglo-American descent, Silko was born in Albuquerque and raised on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation in northern New Mexico. Her family were storytellers among the Laguna; in fact, her relatives were among the Native Americans who taught early twentieth-century anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, traditional myths and stories. As a child Silko attended schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs until she was able to commute to school off the reservation. She graduated with honors from the University of New Mexico in 1969 and briefly attended law school before deciding to pursue a writing career. By the early 1970s, Silko was garnering attention as a promising Native American author, known primarily for her short stories and poetry that explore the distinct oral tradition of the Laguna people. In 1969, while still an undergraduate, she published the short story “The Man To Send Rain Clouds” in the New Mexico Quarterly. This story served as the title piece for Kenneth Rosen's 1974 anthology in which he published six additional stories by Silko. The critical acclaim she earned from Ceremony (1977) solidified her position in the literary field and earned her numerous prestigious writing awards. Although she has taught at and has been associated with several universities, she now pursues writing full time from her home near Tuscon, Arizona.

Major Works

Silko's first published collection, Laguna Woman (1974), consists of her narrative poetry based on the oral traditions and culture of her heritage. In Ceremony, her first novel, she interweaves free-verse poetry and narrative prose to chronicle the story of Tayo, a World War II veteran of mixed white and Laguna Pueblo heritage who returns to the reservation shattered by his war experiences. He finds healing with the help of Bentonie, an elderly man who exists on the cusp of Laguna and white societies, and T'seh Montano, a medicine woman who embodies the feminine, life-giving aspects of the earth. In Ceremony, Silko introduces the unique elements that have characterized her fiction; a protagonist of mixed heritage, a conflict between Native and Anglo cultures; the destructive nature of the dominant white culture; and the restive powers of the traditional Native American life-style. Silko developed these themes in Storyteller (1981) and to a stronger extent in her second novel Almanac of the Dead (1991), a work about Native Americans who retain their native lands after whites, lacking the spiritual and moral force of the Native Americans, succumb to crime, perversion, drug addiction, and environmental degradation. In Storyteller —her volume of poetry, short stories, and recollections—Silko attempts to merge the oral tradition of storytelling with the literary form. She creates an unusual form of autobiography through which she describes her personal experiences and her family history by locating them within the larger Laguna society. Thus, she reflects the Pueblo belief that the individual is only significant in relation to...

(The entire section is 33,732 words.)