Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In 1969, Leslie Marmon Silko’s first story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” appeared in New Mexico Quarterly, and it was used as the title story of an anthology of Indian poetry edited by Kenneth Rosen in 1974. Silko is half Laguna Indian, and this piece signaled the beginning of her efforts (through her poetry and stories) to put Old Laguna on the map as a source of age-old materials. “This place I am from is everything I am as a writer and human being,” she says. Laguna represents a life, a history, a liturgical culture that in her mind America should not ignore— even though it has been Christianized and many of the old ways forgotten or changed.

The Lagunas are Pueblo Indians for whom space and cyclic time are much more important than linear time and the progressive conquering of place. Such perspectives are evident in Silko’s first book of poetry, Laguna Woman (1974). Here she expresses in meditative as well as humorous ways her reverence for the land and all things living on it. For her the earth is the mother of all, a “sister spirit” that permeates all life—plant, animal, and human. “There was a time,” she says, “long long ago, when animals and humans talked to each other. . . .” This collection also includes reflections on the ways men have abused women, just as they have often mistreated the land.

In connection with America’s bicentennial in 1976, Silko published her first novel, Ceremony (1977), which draws on a great body of Laguna myth on “the relationship of man’s health and behavior to the fertility of his land.” Though about a man, Tayo, returning from World War II to his native New Mexico, the novel really depicts a person who has lost his center of being because he is separated...

(The entire section is 728 words.)