Poet, scholar and Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday delivered a convocation address at the Memorial Chapel this past Thursday. Momaday expressed great reverence for the nature of language. “Words are sacred,” explained Momaday, “Where words touch the earth, there is the sacred.”
Momaday accompanied his discussion of language with several stories of his own. He shared memories from his childhood, tales of the Kiowa, and even stories of his experiences as an adult. “You get me talking and there I go,” laughed Momaday.
After dedicating his life’s work to the exploration and mastery of language and storytelling, Momaday feels like he has only “scratched the surface.” “There is so much to know and learn about the oral tradition,” commented Momaday, who works as a professor of such subjects as well as an author.
Momaday closed his presentation with a story dialogue between God and the Bear from his book In the Bear’s House.
Momaday was born in Oklahoma in 1934 and spent the first year of his life on a Kiowa Indian reservation before moving with his parents to the Southwest, where he was exposed to the Apache, Pueblo and Navajo cultures. Both his father, a painter, and his mother, an author of children’s books, worked there as schoolteachers and it was in the southwest that Momaday developed an interest in Literature and poetry.
Momaday graduated from the University of New Mexico and spent a year teaching on an Apache Reservation before winning a poetry fellowship for the creative writing program at Stanford University, where he earned a doctorate in English Literature in 1963.
Momaday received a Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, House Made of Dawn, in 1969, then took a position as Professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Momaday went on to publish academic texts about Native Americans and the American West in addition to several collections of poetry and has also been a widely-exhibited artist since he began creating drawings and paintings in 1974.Momaday’s presentation celebrated his passion for language, oral and written. Although a very successful writer, Momaday explains, “I fancy myself a storyteller. Here we are in this ancient relationship: storyteller to listeners.”
After his convocation, Momaday attended a lunch with Lawrence students and faculty. He agreed to answer several questions by the group.
When asked about what he likes to read, Momaday replied that he has many influences from different areas of literature, but that he really enjoys reading murder mysteries.