N. Scott Momaday, Native American Writer and Advocate of the Oral Tradition

August 31, 2017

The Pulitzer Prize winner gives a public lecture in Tacoma;
7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18


TACOMA, Wash. – N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, scholar, and radio and television commentator, will give a public lecture at University of Puget Sound.

The pioneering Native American writer and prominent advocate for preserving the sacred traditions of his people will speak about “The Crisis of Identity Facing Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples,” at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, in Schneebeck Concert Hall. The Pierce Lecture, which includes a Q&A with the audience, is University of Puget Sound’s premier lecture series. See below for ticket details.

Named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and an Oklahoma poet laureate, Momaday also has been honored with the 2007 National Medal of Arts for “introducing millions worldwide to the essence of Native American culture.” He was the first Native American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, which he received for his novel, House Made of Dawn. His most recent volume, Again the Far Morning: New and Selected Poems, was released in 2011.

Momaday, a Kiowa Tribe member deeply influenced by the Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo, has devoted his life to preserving the Native American oral and cultural traditions, in part by educating the young and the public about sacred places and practices. Through his writing, teaching, advocacy, and media appearances, he has helped rekindle interest in a rich American culture long threatened by politics, economic expansion, and the changes brought by modern thought.

“I visit sacred places (that have been) made sacred by sacrifice, by the investment of blood and experience and story,” he told audiences of the PBS series The West in an online essay. “I think the greatest deprivation the Native American suffers today is the theft of the sacred; that it is not reaching down to the children as it always has.”

His father, Momaday said, related stories from the Kiowa oral tradition over and over, but “It was only after I became an adult that I understood how fragile they are, because they exist only by word of mouth, always just one generation away from extinction.”

The author of 13 books was hailed as “the dean of American Indian writers,” by The New York Times. His first novel, House Made of Dawn, about a Pueblo boy torn between modern and traditional worlds, is considered the first major work of the Native American Renaissance, a period from the late 1960s onwards in which literary works by Native Americans in the United States flourished. He has also written poetry and plays.

Momaday was named a Regents’ Professor of Humanities at the University of Arizona and has also taught at Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, Santa Barbara. He was featured in the Ken Burns and Stephen Ives documentary The West (1996) and in PBS documentaries about boarding schools, Billy the Kid, and the Battle of Little Bighorn. He received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, and he founded The Buffalo Trust, of New Mexico, to keep discussion of Native American traditions alive.

Born in Oklahoma and raised in Arizona and New Mexico, Momaday was the son of two teachers who taught for 25 years in a tiny Native American day school. He learned a love of painting from his father and the desire to write from his mother, and as his fascination for American and English literature grew, he went on to college, earning a master’s degree and doctorate at Stanford University. At University of California, Berkeley, he developed a course in the Indian oral tradition, and he was the first professor to teach American literature at Moscow State University in Russia.

In the PBS essay, Momaday said Native American culture suffered badly due to disease and persecution at the turn of the last century, and the situation is still “very bad.”

“But there are more Indians going to school, more Indians becoming professional people, more Indians assuming full responsibility in our society. We have a long way to go, but we’re making great strides.”

The lecture by N. Scott Momaday is sponsored by the Susan Resneck Pierce Lectures in Public Affairs and the Arts. The Pierce Lecture series brings intellectuals, public figures, writers, and artists to the university to present challenging ideas that stimulate further exploration and discussion on campus.

Past Pierce lecturers have included Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka; economist Robert Reich; choreographer Twyla Tharp; diplomat and author Carlos Fuentes; psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison; filmmaker Spike Lee; the Hon. Cory Booker, now a U.S. senator; cartoonist Roz Chast; political commentator David Brooks; playwright Edward Albee; race and religion scholar Cornel West; musician Philip Glass; and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; among many others.

FOR TICKETS: Tickets are available online at tickets.pugetsound.edu, or at Wheelock Information Center, 253.879.3100. Admission is $20 for the general public. Entrance is free for Puget Sound faculty, staff, and students with campus ID, but tickets are required. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door.

For directions and a map of the University of Puget Sound campus: pugetsound.edu/directions
For accessibility information please contact accessibility@pugetsound.edu or 253.879.3931, or visit pugetsound.edu/accessibility.

Press photos of N. Scott Momaday can be downloaded from pugetsound.edu/pressphotos.

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