N. Scott Momaday

American author and academic

N. Scott Momaday (born February 27, 1934) is a Kiowa novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His novel House Made of Dawn was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969, and is considered the first major work of the Native American Renaissance. His follow-up work The Way to Rainy Mountain blended folklore with memoir. Momaday received the National Medal of Arts in 2007 for his work's celebration and preservation of indigenous oral and art tradition. He holds twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Kiowa painting on canvas,
"Osage and Kiowa Fight"

QuotesEdit

House Made of Dawn (1968)Edit

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969.
  • There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting.
    • Prologue
  • ...and Abel was running. Against the winter sky and the long, light valley of the landscape at dawn, he seemed almost to be standing still, very little and alone.
    • Prologue
  • Now and then in winter, great angles of geese fly through the valley, and then the sky and the geese are the same color and the air is hard and damp and smoke rises from the houses of the town.
    • 1 The Longhair
  • Every six or seven years there is a great harvest of piñones far to the east of town. That harvest, like the deer in the mountains, is the gift of God.
    • 1 The Longhair
  • And Mariano fell and was exhausted. Fransisco held his stride all the way... and even then he could have gone on running, for no reason, for only the sake of running on.
    • 1 The Longhair
  • The mortar fire had stopped. ...The silence had awakened him—and the low, even mutter of the machine that was coming. ...His vision cleared and he saw the countless leaves dip and sail across the splinters of light. The machine... was coming. ...The sound of the machine brimmed at the ridge ...whole and deafening. His mouth fell open upon the cold, wet leaves, and he began to shake violently. ...Then, through the falling leaves, he saw the machine. It rose up behind the hill, black and massive, looming there in front of the sun, He saw it swell, deepen, and take shape on the skyline, as if it were some upheaval of earth. ...For a moment it seemed apart from the land ...Then it came crashing down to the grade, slow as a waterfall, thunderous, surpassing impact, nestling almost into the splash and boil of debris. He was shaking violently, and the machine bore down upon him, came close, and passed him by. A wind arose and ran along the slope, scattering the leaves.
    • 1 The Longhair
  • "My grandfather is dead," Abel said. "You must bury him."... "My grandfather is dead," Abel repeated. His voice was low and even. There was no emotion, nothing.
    • February 28
  • ...and he began to run after them. He was running... and there was no reason to run but running itself and the land and the dawn appearing. The sun rose... and shone in shafts upon the road across the snow-covered valley and hills. ...His legs buckled and he fell in the snow. ...And he got up and ran on. He was alone and running on... he was past caring about the pain... and he could see at last without having to think. He could see the canyons and the mountains and the sky. He could see the rain and the river and the fields beyond... and under his breath he began to sing... House made of pollen, house made of dawn...
    • February 28

The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969)Edit

  • The journey began one day long ago on the edge of the northern Plains. It was carried on over the course of many generations... For the Kiowas the beginning was a struggle for existence in the bleak northern mountains.
    • Prologue
  • The young Plains culture of the Kiowas withered and died like grass that is burned in the prairie wind. ...in every direction, as far as the eye could see, carrion lay out on the land. The buffalo was the animal representation of the sun, the essential and sacrificial victim of the Sun Dance. When the wild herds were destroyed, so too was the will of the Kiowa people; there was nothing to sustain them in spirit.
    • Prologue
  • And the journey is an evocation of... a landscape that is incomparable, a time that is gone forever, and the human spirit, which endures.
    • Prologue
  • The imaginative experience and the historical express equally the traditions of man's reality.
    • Prologue
  • A single knole rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Witchita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. ...To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.
    • Introduction
  • My grandmother had died in the Spring... Her name was Ajo... Her forebears came down from the high country in western Montana nearly three centuries ago. ...In the late seventeenth century they began a long migration to the south and east. It was a journey toward the dawn, and it led to a golden age. Along the way the Kiowas were befriended by the Crows, who gave them the culture and religion of the Plains. They acquired horses... They acquired Tai-me, the sacred Sun Dance doll, from that moment the object and symbol of their worship, and so shared in the divinity of the sun.
    • Introduction
  • There is a perfect freedom in the mountains, but it belongs to the eagle and the elk, the badger and the bear. The Kiowas reckoned their stature by the distance they could see...
    • Introduction
  • The sun is at home on the plains. Precisely there does it have the certain character of a god.
    • Introduction
  • She was ten when the Kiowas came together for the last time as a living Sun Dance Culture. They could find no buffalo... a company of soldiers rode out from Fort Sill... to disperse the tribe. Forbidden without cause the essential act of their faith, having seen the wild herds slaughtered and left to rot upon the ground, the Kiowas backed away forever from the medicine tree. ...My grandmother was there. Without bitterness, and for as long as she lived, she bore a vision of deicide.
    • Introduction
  • The aged visitors who came to my grandmother's house when I was a child were made of lean and leather, and bore themselves upright. They wore great black hats and bright ample shirts that shook in the wind. They rubbed fat upon their hair and wound their braids with stripes of colored cloth. ...They were an old council of warlords, come to remind and be reminded of who they were.
    • Introduction
  • There were frequent prayer meetings and great nocturnal feasts. When I was a child I played with my cousins outside... where the lamplight fell upon the ground and the singing of the old people rose up around us and carried away into the darkness. ...And afterwards, ...I lay down with my grandmother and could hear the frogs away by the river and feel the motion of the air.
    • Introduction
  • [T]he Kiowas came out one by one into the world through a hollow log. ...They looked all around and saw the world. It made them glad to see so many things. They called themselves Kwuda, "coming out."
    • The Setting Out I
  • Before there were horses the Kiowas had need of dogs. There was a man who lived alone; he had been thrown away. ...He had one arrow left, and he shot a bear; but the bear... ran away. ...Then a dog came... and said that many enemies were coming... The man could think of no way to save himself. But the dog said, "...If you take care of my puppies, I will show you how to get away." The dog led the man... to safety.
    • The Setting Out I
  • When my father was a boy, an old man used to come to Mammedaty's house and pay his respects. His name was Cheney, and he was an arrowmaker. ...Every morning ...Cheney would paint his wrinkled face, go out, and pray aloud to the rising sun. ...In my mind ...I know where he stands and where his voice goes on the rolling grasses and where the sun comes up... There, at dawn, you can feel the silence. It is cold and clear and deep like water. It takes hold of you and will not let you go.
    • The Going On XIII
  • In New Mexico the land is made of many colors. When I was a boy I rode out over the red and yellow and purple earth to the west of Jemez Pueblo. ...I came to know that country... truly and intimately, in every season, from a thousand points of view. I know the living sound motion of a horse and the sound of hooves. I know what it is, on a hot day in August or September, to ride into a bank of cold, fresh rain.
    • The Closing In XIX
  • I know how much he loved that animal; I think I know what was going on in his mind: If you will give me my life and the life of my family, I will give you the life of this black-eared horse.
    • The Closing In XX
  • There have been times when I thought I understood how it was that a man might be moved to preserve the bones of a horse—and another to steal them away.
    • The Closing In XXII

The Names: A Memoir (1976)Edit

  • In the dense growth of the bottomland a dark drift moves on the Washita River. A spider enters a small pool of light on Rainy Mountain Creek, and downstream, at the convergence, a Channel catfish turns around in the current and slithers to the surface, where a dragonfly hovers and darts. Away on the high ground grasshoppers and bees set up a crackle and roar in the fields, and the meadowlarks and scissortails whistle and wheel about. Somewhere in the maze of gullies a calf shivers and balls in a tangle of chinaberry trees. And high in the distance a hawk turns in the sun and sails.
    • One
  • Eleven magpies standing in the plain.
    They are illusion—wind and rain revolve—
    And they recede in the darkness, and dissolve.
    • One
  • About the year 1850 in Kentucky a daughter was born to I. J. Galyen and his Cherokee wife, Natachee, newcomers to the knobs from the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. ...He settled in the countryside known as "the knobs," for its numerous abrupt hills, in southwestern Kentucky. Natachee bore him four children, one of whom was Nancy Elizabeth, my great-grandmother. Nancy... married George Scott of Woodbury and bore him five children. Her first son was Theodore, my grandfather.
    • 3
  • Robie Ellis... said of Anne Elizabeth's children, his grandchildren: They will all be hanged by the time they are twenty for their damned Indian blood.
    • 3
  • In 1929 my mother was a Southern belle... It was about this time that she began to see herself as an Indian. That dim native heritage became a fascination and a cause... She imagined who she was. ...She was already a raving beauty. ...very black hair and very blue eyes; her skin... of an olive complexion... She moved... with certain confidence. Above all, she expected the world to be interesting; she would not stand to be bored. ...And she went off to Haskell Institute, the Indian school...
    • 3
  • [1929] was the year in which the old woman Kau-au-ointy died... and was buried at Rainy Mountain Cemetary... The Kiowas, who stole people as well as horses... took her from her homeland of Mexico when she was a child. ...Kau-au-ointy outlived her slave status, married, and brought new blood to the tribe... In my dreams she [my great-great-grandmother] told me wonderful stories.
    • 3
  • Sampt'e drew the string back until he felt the bow wobble... and he let it go. It shot across the long light of the morning and struck the black face of a stone... glanced then away... limping... then it settled down in the grass and lay still. ...he believed that the arrow might take flight again, so much of his life did he give into it.
    • 3
  • Mammedaty was my grandfather, whom I never knew. Yet he came to be imagined posthumously... having invested the shadow of his presence in an object or a word, in his name above all. He enters into my dreams... His grandfather Guipagho the Elder was a famous chief. His mother... was the daughter of Kau-au-ointy... There was a considerable vitality in him... and a self-respect that verged upon arrogance.
    • 4
  • Just before Mammedaty's time the Kiowas had been brought to their knees in the infamous winter campaigns of the Seventh Cavalry, and their Plains culture... virtually destroyed.
    • 4
  • The Kiowas... For a hundred years... they ruled an area... from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico... But by the time Mammedaty was born the Kiowas had been routed in the Indian wars, the great herds of buffalo had been destroyed, and the sun dance prohibited by law.
    • 4

The Man Made of Words (1997)Edit

: Essays, Stories, Passages
  • Now when I hear Kiowa spoken—mostly by the older people who are passing away—it is to me very good. ...the sound is like a warm wind that arises from my childhood. It is the music of memory. ...much of the power and magic and music of words consist not in the meaning but in sound. Storytellers, actors, and children know this too.
    • Introduction
  • The Kiowas migrated from the Yellowstone to the southern plains, arriving at the Washita River drainage in the early 1700s. They were hunters and nomads and storytellers. ...They defined the warrior ideal, and they brought the... horse culture or centaur culture to its fullest expression.
    • Introduction
  • My father told me stories from the Kiowa oral tradition even before I could talk. Those stories became permanent... the nourishment of my imagination for the whole of my life. They are among the most valuable gifts I have ever been given.
    • Introduction
  • The story of the arrowmaker, the "man made of words," is perhaps the first story I was told. ...it is a story about a story, about the efficacy of language and the power of words. ...I am sure I do not yet understand it in all of its consequent meanings. Nor do I expect to understand it so. The stories that I keep close... are those that yield more and more of their spirit in time.
    • The Arrowmaker
  • If an arrow is well made it will have tooth marks on it. ...The Kiowas ...straightened them with their teeth. Then they drew them to the bow to see that they were straight.
    • The Arrowmaker
  • Imagine: somewhere in the prehistoric distance a man holds up in his hand a crude instrument— ...like a daub or a broom bearing pigment—and fixes the wonderful image in his mind's eye to a wall or a rock. In that instant is accomplished... the advent of art. ...in the long reach of time he is utterly without distinction, except: he draws. ...all the stories of the world proceed from the moment in which he makes his mark. All literatures issue from his hand.
    • The Native Voice in American Literature
  • At the heart of American Indian oral tradition is a deep and unconditional belief in the efficacy of language. Words are intrinsically powerful. They are magical. By means of words one can bring about physical change in the universe... one can quiet the raging weather, bring forth the harvest, ward off evil, rid the body of sickness and pain, subdue an enemy, capture the heart of a lover, live in the proper way, and venture beyond death. ...there is nothing more powerful. ...To be careless in the presence of words... is to violate a fundamental morality.
    • The Native Voice in American Literature II
  • It is sometimes enough that one places one's voice on the silence... [S]ilence too is powerful. It is the dimension in which ordinary and extraordinary events take their proper places. In the Indian world, a word is spoken or a song is sung not against, but within the silence. ...[S]ilence is the sanctuary of sound.
    • The Native Voice in American Literature II
  • Consider this ritual formula from the Navajo: ...
    My voice thou restore for me.
    Restore all for me in beauty.
    Make beautiful all that is before me.
    Make beautiful all that is behind me.
    It is done in beauty...

    ...the oral tradition achieves a remarkable stability, an authority not unlike that of Scripture.
    • The Native Voice in American Literature II
  • [O]ne day I laid the dullimer to rest once and for all. I had a dream in which it seemed to me that I could decipher that ancient markings on the amulet:
    I, Chopetl, am grown weary of war;
    I have been deadly even to the gods.
    • Chopetl

In the Bear's House (1999)Edit

  • Bear and I are one... My Indian name is Tsoai-talee, which in Kiowa means "Rock-tree boy." Tsoai, "Rock-tree," is Devils Tower in Wyoming. That is where, long ago, a Kiowa boy turned into a bear and where his sisters were born into the sky and became the stars of the Big Dipper. Through the power of stories and names, I am the reincarnation of that boy. From the time the name Tsoai-talee was conferred onto me as an infant, I have been possessed of Bear's spirit. The Kiowas... believe that... Bear is the animal representation of the wilderness.
    • Introduction
  • Bear is an impractical visionary. His eyesight is weak, but he sees beyond the edge of the world, beyond time...
    • Introduction
  • In western Siberia I was shown articles of the Khanty bear fest... In the presence of these things I felt their power. In their presence I understood something about Bear's transcendent spirit, how... Bear dances on the edge of life and death, crossing over and back again.
    • Introduction
  • Something in me hungers for wild mountains and rivers and plains. I love to be on Bear's ground... And Bear is welcome in my dreams, for in that cave of sleep I am at home to Bear.
    • Introduction
  • URSET
    I dream of berries... I dream of high meadows to which my kin come in the spring and summer when the wind is fragrant with buckwheat and camas and sweet roots are thick and tangled in the loam. ...lusty sows sauntering in the fields of flowers and of their cubs at play. ...clouds gathering at the summits and of rain descending in curtains on the dawn. ...hawks casting the shadows of their flight upon sunlit steeps. I dream of the moon riding and of leaves quaking on pale, speckled limbs, and darkness rising like water to the moon.
    • Four, Dreams
  • YAHWEH
    A story in which there is not the realization of grace is but a shadow, a shell, a thing without substance. Grace is the substance of story, albeit invisible and remote. Grace is the soul of story. ...Or perhaps a mask behind which there is no presence. ...only silence, a perfect stillness.
    • Five, Story
  • YAHWEH
    [Poetry] is the highest of all languages... higher even than mathematics. It is on a plane with music.
    • Six, Evolution
  • YAHWEH
    Poor Man, he had been trying so hard to talk, for such a long time. Then the children went out and played together. At the end of the day they had possession of language.
    • Six, Evolution
  • YAHWEH
    Nothing will come of [evolution], as it has come from nothing.
    • Six, Evolution

Quotes about MomadayEdit

  • The voice with which he greeted me was warm and deep, and the words spoken in a way which gave weight to every syllable. It was a voice which one might expect from a man who wrote and continues to write of the magical nature and power of language.
    • Joseph Bruchac, as quoted by Matthias Schubnell, Conversations with N. Scott Momaday (1997) Introduction, p. ix.
  • Momaday speaks with a deep resonance using cultivated speech, for he cares as much about language sounds as how his words look on the page.
    • Bettye Givens, as quoted by Matthias Schubnell, Conversations with N. Scott Momaday (1997) Introduction, p. ix.
  • House Made of Dawn borrows its title from a Navajo healing ceremony centuries old. The novel tells of a young Jemez Indian named Abel from the Pueblo where Momaday grew up, the age of twelve through high school. Its prose rhythms, complex narrative points-of-view, and flashbacks assimilate experimental techniques in modern fiction and New World romantic themes. ...Abel's dislocations as a contemporary Indian fracture a voice that searches for consciousness. His ancestors were exiled from the plains by plague and taken in at Jemez. ...Abel was kidnapped from his grandfather and put into a government boarding school, drafted into a world war, and sentence to prison for ritual homicide, then relocated in the urban ghetto of Los Angeles. Past, present, and future—Indian life as-it-was, then estranged among whites, followed by a prolonged return—disjoint the narrative. School, war, prison, and the city are white institutions where the martyred son of the earth, the biblical Abel, lives through the Indian nightmare of a machine come into the garden.
    • Kenneth Lincoln, Native American Renaissance (1985) Word Senders, "IN BEAUTY IT IS FINISHED" p. 117.
  • Once into the novel... a perceptive reader may begin to realize that sophistication in House Made of Dawn is of a different order from that in canonized texts. It is a sophistication of "otherness," a discourse requiring that readers pass through an "alien conceptual horizon" and engage a "reality" unfamiliar... What has matured with Momaday is not merely an undeniable facility with techniques and tropes of modernism, but... the profound awareness of conflicting epistemologies... With Momaday the American Indian novel shows its ability to appropriate the discourse of the privileged center and make it "bear the burden" of an "other" world-view. Momaday's novel represents more fully than any Native American novel before it the "assertion of a different perspective."
    • Louis Owens, Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel (1994) Ch. 4, Acts of the Imagination: The Novels of N. Scott Momaday, pp. 91-92.
  • The new images of the Indian in the public mind have emerged as a result of primitivistic longings in a society whose trust in limitless technological advance and a purely scientific, materialistic view of the natural environment is no longer secure. The Indian as keeper of mystical knowledge or as natural ecologist is an updated version of earlier images which reveals more about the state of the dominant society than about contemporary Indians. Ironically, Momaday himself has come close to falling victim to the temptation of image making in his contributions to the Indian-as-ecologist debate. This shows that Indians are not immune to adopting images created by mainstream American culture. On the whole, however, Momaday's work depicts the worlds of American Indians objectively and without racial bias.
    • Matthias Schubnell, N. Scott Momaday, the cultural and literary background (1985) Introduction, p. 8.
  • N. Scott Momaday has made himself readily available for interviews throughout his career. Among the recurrent issues raised in these conversations are Momaday's multi-ethnic experience, his view of the Indian's place in American society, his synthesis of native oral traditions and the Western literary canon, his concern for ecology and conservation, his theories of language and the imagination, the influences on his academic and artistic development, his work as a teacher and painter, and, of course, his own comments on specific works. Momaday's responses to queries on these topics are remarkably consistent.
    • Matthias Schubnell, Conversations with N. Scott Momaday (1997) Introduction, p. ix.
  • I have seen him gradually comprehending, accepting, and even asserting his Indianness. Actually, of course, his Indianness is as much assumed as inborn.
    • Wallace Stegner, Letter to Matthias Schubnell (May 2, 1981) as quoted by Matthias Schubnell, N. Scott Momaday, the cultural and literary background (1985) Introduction, p. 11.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

 
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