N. Scott Momaday Additional Biography


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Among the most widely read and studied Native American authors, N. Scott Momaday manifests, in his writings, a keen awareness of the importance of self-definition in literature and life. From 1936 onward, his family moved from place to place in the Southwest, eventually settling in Albuquerque, where Momaday attended high school. He entered the University of New Mexico in 1954 and later studied poetry at Stanford University. In 1963, he received his doctorate in English and since then has held teaching jobs at various Southwestern universities.

In a semiautobiographical work, The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday writes that identity is “the history of an idea, man’s idea of himself, and it has old and essential being in language.” Momaday defines his characters in terms of their use or abuse of language; usually his characters find themselves relearning how to speak while they learn about themselves. Even the title of one of Momaday’s essays, “The Man Made of Words,” indicates his contention that identity is shaped by language. “Only when he is embodied in an idea,” Momaday writes, “and the idea is realized in language, can man take possession of himself.”

The forces that shape language—culture and landscape—are also crucial in Momaday’s works. To Russell Martin, Western writing is concerned with the harsh realities of the frontier that “could carve lives that were as lean and straight as whittled sticks.” This harsh landscape is present in Momaday’s work also, but he has a heartfelt attachment to it. Having a spiritual investment in a place, in Momaday’s writing, helps a person gain self-knowledge. To an extent, issues of identity were important to Momaday as well. Son of a Kiowa father and a Cherokee mother, Momaday belonged fully to neither culture. Furthermore, much of his early childhood was spent on a Navajo reservation, where his father worked, and he grew up consciously alienated from the surrounding culture.

To combat rootlessness, the imagination and its expression in language is essential. “What sustains” the artist, he writes in The Ancient Child “is the satisfaction . . . of having created a few incomparable things—landscapes, waters, birds, and beasts.” Writing about the efforts of various people to maintain traditional culture in the face of the modern world, Momaday occupies a central place in the American literary landscape.


(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Author Profile

The child of a Kiowa father and a Cherokee mother, N. Scott Momaday (the N. is for Novarre) grew up in several different Indian communities. In the 1930’s, he moved with his family from rural Oklahoma to Navajo country in New Mexico and Arizona. Then, in 1946, when Momaday was twelve years old, his parents began teaching at Jemez Pueblo, where Momaday spent his adolescence. Thus, Momaday grew up an Indian child in Indian communities but was never fully integrated into those communities. Such a fragmented experience, common among contemporary Indians, has served as the focus of much of Momaday’s writing.

After attending the University of New Mexico, Momaday received a Ph.D. in American literature from Stanford University in 1963 and embarked on a distinguished career as a professor and writer. In 1969, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn (1968). His other publications include an autobiography, The Names: A Memoir (1976); a book of poetry, The Gourd Dancer (1976), illustrated with Momaday’s own sketches; and Ancient Child (1989).

Momaday’s works have often explored the power of names and the stories that accompany them. Many twentieth century Indian writers have struggled to reconcile written literature with oral storytelling, but Momaday was one of the first Indian authors to express a concern with oral tradition and storytelling by experimenting with the structure of his prose. Momaday’s disjointed narratives and his juxtaposition of prose, poetry, photographs, and sketches have exerted a powerful influence on many Indian authors.


Isernhagen, Hartwig. Momaday, Vizenor, Armstrong: Conversations on American Indian Writing. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. The interviews that are the basis of this book were conducted in 1994. Isernhagen questions the authors about their roles as creators, critics, and mentors.


(The entire section is 827 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Navarre Scott Momaday (MAHM-uh-day) is perhaps the foremost writer of American Indian poetry, fiction, and historical autobiography. Of predominantly Kiowa ancestry, he was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, on February 27, 1934, to Alfred Morris and Mayme Natachee Scott Momaday. His father, an art teacher and painter, illustrated Momaday’s celebrated work The Way to Rainy Mountain. His mother was also a teacher, as well as a writer.

After living among the Kiowas on a family farm in Oklahoma, Momaday came of age in New Mexico, where his parents worked with the Jemez Indians in the state’s high mountain country. The influence of imaginative, talented parents led Momaday on the path to a fine formal education....

(The entire section is 902 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Momaday was born on the Kiowa Reservation in Lawton, Oklahoma, on February 27, 1934. His father, Alfred Morris, was an artist and teacher; in...

(The entire section is 253 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

N. Scott Momaday was born in 1934 in Lawton, Oklahoma, to Alfred Morris Momaday, a Kiowa Indian, and Mayme Natachee Scott, who was part...

(The entire section is 237 words.)