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N. Scott Momaday

2018 Lifetime Achievement

House Made of Dawn - N. Scott Momaday
N. Scott Momaday – poet, watercolorist, novelist, scholar and storyteller – is the dean of Native American writers. He is a celebrated exemplar of the oral tradition and founder of the Buffalo Trust, a foundation committed to preserving Native American culture. His writing emphasizes the radical mystery of nature, and he believes that “the highest human purpose is to reinvent and celebrate the sacred.”

Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. said Momaday “is at root a storyteller who both preserves and expands Native American culture in his critically praised, transformative writing.”

Born a Kiowa in Lawton, Oklahoma, Navarro Scott Momaday received some months later the Indian name Tsoai-talee (Rock Tree Boy), derived from the Kiowa word for a sacred rock tower in Wyoming (called Devil’s Tower by non-Indians.) Sixty years later, Edward Abbey would remark that the name Tsoai-talee seemed well justified.

Momaday’s mother, Mayne Natachee Scott, wrote children’s books, and his father, Alfred Morris Momaday, was a painter. They moved when their son was a toddler to the American Southwest and took teaching posts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Together, the couple composed the entire teaching staff of the Jemez Pueblo School in New Mexico for 25 years.

“From the age of 12 to 17, I lived on the back of a horse, exploring every corner of that beloved world,” Momaday says, noting with a wry smile that he and Alexander the Great were both given horses at age 12. The landscape as sustainer frames House Made of Dawn, an international classic and Momaday’s first book. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 and helped Native American literature breakthrough to the mainstream.

“From birth, I grew up being in touch with sacred matters,” Momaday said. “I saw people who were deeply involved in their traditional life, in the memories of their blood. They had, as far as I could see, a certain strength and beauty that I find missing in the modern world at large. I like to celebrate that involvement in my writing.”

From childhood, Momaday moved back and forth between Indian and non-Indian settings, completing his senior year of high school at a military academy in Virginia. He took an undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico, then won the only poetry fellowship granted his year in the creative writing program at Stanford University. He earned his doctorate in English literature there in 1963 and began his life as a scholar.

In 1969, Momaday was initiated into the Gourd Dance Society, an ancient Kiowa ceremonial fellowship, and he has attended its annual gatherings each subsequent year. Other honors accrued, including positions on the faculties of the University of California, Stanford and the University of Arizona. In 1974, Momaday became the first professor to teach American literature at the Moscow State University in Russia. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Momaday a National Medal of Arts.

The writer splits his time between Oklahoma City, where he served as the Centennial Poet Laureate, and Santa Fe, where he worked as a senior scholar for the Center for Advanced Research.

Momaday describes himself as a Kiowa Indian and a Western man. “I am an Indian, and I believe I’m fortunate to have the heritage I have,” he has said. “I grew up in two worlds and straddle both those worlds even now. It has made for confusion and a richness in my life. I’ve been able to deal with it reasonably well, I think, and I value it.”

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Blog Posts about N. Scott Momaday

N. Scott Momaday Honored With Dayton Literary Peace Prize

At 85, N. Scott Momaday – considered the dean of Native American literature – is attracting renewed accolades for his life’s work. In 2018, he won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and entered the National Native American Hall of Fame. In May, he received the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize and this November will be feted with a Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The poet, novelist and essayist has won the Dayton organization’s Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. It is named for the celebrated U.S. diplomat who... Read More →

N. Scott Momaday Named 2019 Recipient of the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize

N. Scott Momaday N. Scott Momaday, a captivating storyteller long considered "the dean of Native American letters," is the new recipient of the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize. Established in 2016, the young prize honors artists, authors, educators, filmmakers, historians, and scientists "whose body of work has advanced our collective understanding of the indomitable American spirit." Momaday is its third honoree. Born a Kiowa 83 years ago in Lawton, Oklahoma, Momaday is an artist, essayist, novelist and professor who identifies first as a poet. He accepted... Read More →

Cleveland Book Week Highlights: N. Scott Momaday Speaks At City Club Of Cleveland

N. Scott Momaday Photography by Michaelangelo's Photography N. Scott Momaday began with horses and ended with bears. He spoke of the sacredness of both. At 84, the recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards lifetime achievement prize was both merry and measured on the dais of the City Club of Cleveland. He began with a tale about a hunting horse “black and fast and afraid of nothing.” Its owner was a coward, though, and when the man diverted the horse from battle, it died of shame. The elder who recounted this story to Momaday cried when he told it.... Read More →

Introducing Our Class Of 2018

  The Cleveland Foundation today unveiled the winners of its 83rd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Marlon James, a 2015 Anisfield-Wolf honoree, made the announcement. The 2018 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor, Poetry N. Scott Momaday, Lifetime Achievement Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Fiction Kevin Young, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake... Read More →
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