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Born on March 5, 1948 in
Albuquerque, new Mexico and of mixed Laguna Pueblo, white, and Mexican
ancestry, Leslie Marmon Silko grew up on a Laguna Pueblo reservation.
She attended Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools, and then the University
of New Mexico. After a brief stint at law school, she pursued graduate
studies in English, and embarked the writing career that has led
her to be considered the premier Native American novelist and poet
of her generation. Silko has lived and taught English in New Mexico,
Alaska, and Arizona.
Silko's first book was the poetry collection Laguna
Woman, in 1974,
followed by Ceremony, in 1977.
The first novel by a Native American women to be published in the
United States, Ceremony received immediate critical
and popular acclaim. Since Ceremony, Silko has
published numerous books, including: Storyteller (1981) which
combines poetry, tribal stories, fiction, and photographs; a collection
of selected correspondence with nature poet James Wright, The
Delicacy and Strength of Lace (1985);
the novel Almanac of the Dead (1991); Yellow
Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996),
a collection of essays on Native American life; and the novel Gardens
in the Dunes (1999).
While one Native American author, D'Arcy McNickle, published
several novels in the 1930s,
it was not until the late 1960s
and early 1970s, with
N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, and then
Silko's work, that Native American authors became a significant
presence in the American literary scene. During this same time, works
by and about a range of "ethnic" or multicultural American authors
began to gain access to publication and attention across the country.
This was due in large part to the increased contact between communities
instigated by the demographic shifts caused by World War II, and
to the Harlem Renaissance and then the equal rights movements of
Ceremony is set on the same Laguna Pueblo
reservation where Silko grew up. Pueblo Indians refers
to the group of Native Americans, including Hopi, Zuni, and Laguna,
from the Pueblo crescent, which runs from central new Mexico through
northeastern Arizona. The Laguna Reservation lies between Albuquerque
and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Pueblos first came into contact
with whites in the 16th century when the
Spanish settled in the area. Pueblo territory became a part of Mexico
in the early 1800s,
when Mexico gained independence from Spain. The United States took control
of the region after the Mexican-American war, with the 1848 Treaty
of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The United States government introduced the
Reservation system, originally intended to maintain racial segregation,
and established the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which instituted,
among other things, government-run schools for Native American children.
All of Silko's work draws on her personal experience as
a Native American. As she often points out in interviews, Native
American culture is passed on through a profoundly communal process
of storytelling. Silko bases her work on traditional Native American
stories, using narrative techniques that emphasize their communal aspects,
even in books authored by one woman. The oral nature of traditional
Native American storytelling ensures that each version will be slightly
changed, and updated. In this spirit, she affirms in interviews,
Silko's works are a continuation, not a reinterpretation, of the
traditional stories. Ceremony features the three
most important figures in Pueblo mythology, Thought Woman, Corn
Mother, and Sun Father both in their traditional stories and in
updated versions. Tayo, the main character in Ceremony, is
also a figure in traditional Laguna stories. All of Silko's works
demonstrate her concern with the preservation of Native American
culture, including traditions, languages, and natural resources,
in combination with an awareness of the reality of cultural miscegenation
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ceremony!