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Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko (1948 – ). Native American novelist, poet, and short-story writer whose work is primarily concerned with the relations between different cultures and between human beings and the natural world
1948, 5 March, born to Leland Howard Marmon (a photographer) and Mary Virginia Leslie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; mixed ancestry, Laguna Pueblo, white, Mexican; grew up on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation.
Attends Laguna Day school until fifth grade; at school she was first prohibited to use the Keresan language that her aunts and grandmothers used in storytelling; later attends a Catholic grade school in Albuquerque, 50 miles from home.
1966, marries first husband, Richard C. Chapman; son Robert William Chapman.
1969, earns a BA in English from the University of New Mexico; although she published the short story “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” the same year, she did not yet see writing as her vocation; begins law school at the University of New Mexico under the American Indian Law School Fellowship Program; divorces Richard Chapman.
1971, awarded the National Endowment for the Arts’ Discovery Grant; leaves law school, takes graduate English courses, and turns to storytelling as her means to find justice for her people; leaves the University to teach on the Navajo reservation at Tsaile, Arizona; marries second husband, John Silko, whom she later divorces.
1972, birth of second son Cazimir Silko; moves with her husband to Ketchikan, Alaska
1976, returns to Laguna Pueblo Reservation
1977, Pushcart Prize for Poetry
1978, moves to Tucson and begins teaching at the University of Arizona; friendship and correspondence with poet James Wright (he dies of cancer in 1980).
1981, MacArthur Fellowship.
1988, New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities’ “Living Cultural Treasure” Award.
Laguna Woman: Poems (1974) Collection of poems written while Silko was teaching at the Navajo Community College in Tsaile, Arizona; highly introspective poems suffused with images of animals, landscapes, weather, colors; earned a poetry award from The Chicago Review.
The Man to Send Rain Clouds: Contemporary Stories by American Indians (1974) Anthology of Native American stories edited by Kenneth Rosen; inclusion of seven of Silko’s short stories (among them “Yellow Woman”).
Ceremony (1977) A novel telling of a World War II veteran’s struggle to adjust to life back on a New Mexico Indian reservation after returning home from the war. Haunted by the violence that he was party to during the war, as well as by memories of his brother who died there, Tayo initially wastes away on the reservation. Finally, he meets the wise Betonie. Through this friendship with Betonie, Tayo discovers that the heavens and all earthly creatures are aspects of one whole and that ceremony brings balance and peace to that whole.
Storyteller (1981) Collection of eight short stories, 25 poems, and 26 photographs (17 of which were taken by Silko’s father); semi-autobiographical in nature; reflection upon identity, landscape, family, love, sex, and power; featuring family gossip, Native American mythology, and striking images of Silko’s native land and family.
With the Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright (1986) Edited by Anne Wright. A correspondence between two friends from very different backgrounds who, nonetheless, are brought together by their mutual love for language and writing. The letters chronicle the friendship from its formal beginnings in Wright’s praise of Silko’s Ceremony through Silko’s very personal feelings about the cancer that would cause Wright’s death. The letters feature the two writers’ thoughts on life, stories of personal experiences, and feelings about their own current projects. The book won the Boston Globe prize for non-fiction.
Almanac of the Dead (1991) The longest of Silko’s works, this novel represents the culmination of years of research, thought, and other efforts connected to the issue of justice for indigenous people. Through a long series of characters that show moral and spiritual depravity, Silko explores the possibility of finding a path to spiritual salvation and social redemption. As she makes clear the horrors of society, she forces the reader to pass moral judgement, even if this means passing judgement on the self. Often bluntly, the novel defines and presents a choice, on the social and spiritual levels, between creation and destruction.
Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today (1996) A collection of essays, many of which were previously published in other works, including addresses, forewords to other books, and the author’s notes from some of her previous books. Focusing on a wide range of topics, varying from national politics to the problem of hunger, Silko continues to address human concerns through a storyteller’s voice. The collection is roughly divided into sections whose boundaries blend into each other, leaving the reader unsure of when she moves out of one section and into the next.
Laguna Pueblo People. The word “Pueblo,” meaning village in Spanish, refers to Southwest American Indian peoples inhabiting the Colorado Plateau and the Middle Rio Grande areas. Pueblo culture includes such groups as the Hopi and the Laguna. The Laguna Pueblo settlement is found in the mid-western region of New Mexico, near the Rio Grande. Laguna Pueblo people speak the Keresan language; their society has a maternal-line system of kinship which forbids a man from marrying within his clan; their religion is highly spiritual and pantheistic.
Ka’tsina (Kachina) Spirit, In the Pueblo people mythology, the ka’tsina is a beneficent spirit associated with rain and water. In traditional stories, the ka’tsina is sometimes seen abducting a woman who later returns to her community and is endowed with special powers.