According to the conventional criteria used by literary scholars to define short fiction, the contributions of Native Americans to this genre are relatively recent. A consensus among commentators familiar with the field is that N. Scott Momaday’s novel House Made of Dawn (1968) marked the beginning of a new phase of cultural expression in which First Nation people joined other ethnic groups in finding publishers for their writing. As Leslie Marmon Silko, whose novel Ceremony (1977) has been called the first written by a Native American woman, puts it somewhat sardonically, “the ignorant Anglo-Americans that suddenly let us publish our books” realized the growing interest in Native Americans had commercial possibilities. As Silko, in consort with many other accomplished First Nation novelists, has contended, this emergence into print is the latest and hardly most significant phase of a tradition of storytelling that reaches back to what might be called the dawn of human time. “From generation to generation the people had been telling stories,” Silko explains, “and Scott Momaday could not have written the book if it not had been for the careful nurturing, for the care of the stories and his old grandmother he talks about.” As she states in Ceremony:
I will tell you something about stories,[he said]They aren’t just entertainment.Don’t be fooled.They are all we have, you see,all we have to fight offillness and death.
The “death” she speaks of is a death of the spirit, of a people’s soul, of the culture that sustains a civilization, and the stories that she refers to have been an integral element of First Nations life and originate in the pre- Columbian distant past. Stories, or “short fiction,” are a part of the oral tradition that preceded print, that continues coterminously with its invention, and that does not seem likely to be subverted or replaced entirely by written forms now that Native Americans have at least some access to the same media outlets as other citizens of the United States.
Silko’s Archetypal Storyteller
Just as Momaday’s House Made of Dawn has been identified as the trailmaking act that opened the way for Native American literature to move into the realm of print, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller (1981) could be...
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