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 the 1960s.
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 (mixing).