The Man Made of Words

by N. Scott Momaday

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Man Made of Words is a collection of essays, anecdotes, and allegories by Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday. The collection provides an intimate view of Momaday's writing career and how he has embedded himself as a permanent fixture in the American literary canon.

The cultural and political significance of a Native American writer reaching the height of literary fame is examined in this book, and the collection shows how Momaday has paved the way for future generations of Native American authors such as Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and others.

Although the collected prose pieces cover various topics, the underlying theme among them is the unbreakable interconnection between a writer's identity and the act of writing. For Momaday, to write is to share a piece of oneself—one's cultural roots, personal experiences, and language—with the world. Writing is a streamlined, singular process that begins with the thoughts and emotions inside the writer.

These thoughts and emotions do not come into being spontaneously, but are cultivated from multiple aspects of one's identity, whether it is the Kiowa language of Momaday's culture or his childhood experiences growing up on a reservation. For Momaday, it is important to acknowledge these elements of his identity—to be comfortable with himself—in order to be an honest writer. Any delusion or self-deception would be detrimental to that singular process of literary expression.

Through essays and allegories, Momaday creates a sort of literary self-portrait in collage form. By doing so, he is able to examine aspects of himself—both as a writer and as a human being—and then articulate those revelations as literature. Momaday is well aware of the nature of time, for it is important to dig through the past—his own as well as the history of his people—in order to make sense of the present and build the future. This is why storytelling is important to Momaday: it is an act of time travel that can shape him and those who read his stories in the present moment.

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