[Originally published in Joy Porter and Kenneth Roemer, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 245-56]



Leslie Marmon Silko: storyteller

Novelist, poet, essayist, photographer, cinematographer, and in every case storyteller: Leslie Marmon Silko is perhaps the most familiar and most often anthologized American Indian writer today, and her novel Ceremony is as widely recognized as any other contemporary American novel.1 In Ceremony as in all her other work to date, Silko's creative vision has been shaped in nearly equal measure by the land and by the variety of oral and written storytelling performances that were a part of her life growing up at Laguna Pueblo. According to both cultural anthropology and oral tradition, Laguna has always been one of the most adaptive pueblo communities in the Southwest, and many of the stories comprising Laguna oral tradition preserve the complex strategies of resistance and assimilation that have enabled the people to survive and adjust to myriad external pressures. Like her native Laguna, Silko's work is a study in cultural mediation2 and spirit transformation. Again and again her creative vision celebrates the transformative power of story and place, working together for life in a healing way.


        Leslie Marmon Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on 5 March 1948. Her mother, Virginia Leslie, was originally from Montana; her father, Lee Howard Marmon, was at the time just out of the Army, beginning his career as a professional photographer and managing the Marmon Trading Post in the village of Old Laguna, about fifty miles west of Albuquerque. Along with her two younger sisters, Wendy and Gigi, Leslie was raised in one of the houses on the southeast edge of Old Laguna village, the part of the village closest to the Rio San Jose and, just beyond the river, US Route 66, now Interstate 40.
        Silko was born into a family environment already rich with story. From its beginnings, the Marmon family had been prominent in Laguna's history of contact with Euro-American social, political, economic, and educational {246} forces, and its story (like Laguna's) has always been one of outsiders who became insiders and of insiders who became outsiders -- a story about cultural transformations and the artful merging of Laguna and Anglo influence. The first Laguna Marmons, brothers Walter and Silko's great-grandfather Robert, came from Ohio in the 1880s as surveyors, married Laguna women, and became part of the community, Walter as a school teacher and Robert as a trader; both eventually were elected to serve as Governor of the Pueblo. Great-grandfather Robert's second wife was Silko's full-blooded Laguna great-grandmother Marie Anaya Marmon, younger sister of Robert's deceased first wife. This is the "Grandma A'mooh" lovingly referred to in Storyteller and several of the essays in Yellow Woman, who in her youth left Laguna for some years to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and who "spoke and wrote English beautifully,"3 who passed time with young Leslie and her sisters both telling them stories from Laguna oral tradition and reading aloud to them from Brownie the Bear and the Bible. Her husband Robert, who had shelves of books in his house, also became conversant in Laguna oral tradition and in 1919 was the source of two of the traditional storytelling performances collected in Boas's monumental Keresan Texts. Their son Henry, Silko's "Grandpa Hank," attended the Sherman Institute, California's version of Carlisle, while "Aunt Susie" (Henry's sister-in-law Susan Reyes, married to his brother Walter) attended both the Carlisle Indian School and Dickinson College (also in Carlisle); upon returning to Laguna she served the community as a schoolteacher and also as a Keresan cultural historian -- a "storyteller" like her mother-in-law Grandma A'mooh, in one of the most important senses of that term. When anthropologist and ethnographer Elsie Clews Parsons came to Laguna to collect the stories published in Boas's edition and in several other shorter collections during the years between World Wars I and II, she stayed at the house of a Marmon kinswoman, Henry's cousin Alice (identified by Parsons as "Mrs. E. C. Eckerman"), another of the family storytellers Silko frequently cites as one of her own mentors. In Silko's own time, her father (who served as Tribal Council Treasurer during the time that uranium began to be mined at Laguna) headed a project to republish John Gunn's largely forgotten 1917 collection of Laguna oral traditional tales entitled Schat-Chen. Not surprisingly, given such a heritage, Leslie Marmon Silko grew up in a house full of books and stories -- Laguna stories, Euro-American books, books about Laguna stories, Laguna stories about Euro-American contact -- a legacy of cultural interplay and mediation that has profoundly influenced her own storytelling style and repertoire.
        Silko's creative preoccupation with the theme of cultural mediation is often reflected in the Laguna landscape that functions as setting, and {247} sometimes even character, in much of her work. For Silko, one of the most important of all such places is the bend of the river a short distance from the house where she was raised, itself located at the very southeast edge of the village, where the traffic of the main US cross-country interstate highway mirrors the older, quieter motion of water moving on the land. In several of Silko's Storyteller pieces, particularly those featuring the Kochinninako / Yellow Woman motif, this part of the river figures as a contact zone,4 where a female representing Laguna identity "within" meets a male who represents some other cultural or spiritual identity "out there." This place is also the liminal zone in which the spirits of the Katsinas, passing through it from the direction of sunrise into the village in November, take on the corporeal form of the masked dancers, a transformative event recalled in Ceremony (82) and also in Auntie's story about Tayo's mother Laura, which positions her at this place at sunrise, returning to Laguna (70). This is also the place that Tayo positions himself at sunrise on the morning following the autumnal equinox (and the Jackpile mine episode) at the end of the novel (255). In the work of many writers, such places take shape as wastelands, deserts, lifeless and/or life-threatening expanses; in Silko's work, as at Laguna, the site of such transformative contact events appears as a place of comfort and regenerative energy, a place characterized by the twin blessings of shade and moving water even throughout the long summer months. Silko's own affinity for this place reflects, perhaps, her own felt "position," occupying as she does a marginal site with respect to both Laguna "within" and the dominant Anglo mainstream "out there" -- and as she depicts it, it's not a bad place to be.
        In addition to the education she was receiving from the land and the storytellers in her extended family, Leslie attended the BIA school at Laguna through the fifth grade and then parochial schools in Albuquerque during her teenage school years. She then attended the University of New Mexico, where she was enrolled in the general honors program and received her BA in English (with honors) in 1969, the year the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn. She then enrolled in the American Indian law program at the University of New Mexico Law School, but after a semester transferred into the creative writing MA program there.
        Though her interest in writing predated her college years -- she was already writing stories in elementary school -- that interest blossomed during her years at the University of New Mexico, during which time she took several couses in creative writing and saw her first work published ("The Man to Send Rain Clouds" in New Mexico Quarterly, Winter-Spring 1969). By 1971 she had chosen writing, rather than the practice of law, as her vocation, {248} and in 1974 (at the end of a two-year teaching stint at Navajo Community College) her career became effectively established with two publications: her poetry chapbook Laguna Woman (Greenfield Review Press) and Kenneth Rosen's The Man to Send Rain Clouds, an anthology of nineteen Native American short stories, seven of them (including the title story) by Silko. In that same year, another of Silko's short stories, the oft-anthologized "Lullaby," was published in Chicago Review, and Silko was awarded an NEA writing fellowship.
        She then moved to Ketchikan, Alaska, where she lived for two years with her husband, John Silko, and her two young sons, the older of the two from a previous short-lived marriage during her college years. There, supported partially by a Rosewater Foundation grant, she wrote most of what was to become the novel Ceremony (1977). The time she spent in Alaska at Ketchikan and the small community of Bethel strongly engaged her imagination -- "Storyteller," the title story of her major collection of short works and the only piece not set at or near Laguna, is unmistakably Alaskan in setting and character.
        Returning to the Southwest from Alaska, Silko continued to write while holding academic appointments first at the University of New Mexico and then at the University of Arizona. The year after Ceremony was published, Silko moved from New Mexico to Arizona and acquired a ranch in the mountains a few miles northwest of Tucson, where she continues to live. In 1981, after her marriage to John Silko had been dissolved, Seaver Books published her book Storyteller, which brought togethermuch of her previously published poetry and short fiction, re-embedded in a webwork of family narrative accompanied by photographs of the sources of her storytelling identity -- photographs, that is, of the people and the places to which those stories attach. In that same year, Silko was awarded a five-year, $176,000 MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship, allowing her to devote herself full time to her artistic pursuits, including writing the novel that over the course of the next ten years would become Almanac of the Dead.


        Many of the oral traditional stories that Silko heard and read came to shape the structure and texture of her first and most famous novel, Ceremony. From the very outset of the novel, the narrative persona aligns herself with Keresan oral tradition by claiming to be one of a very long line of storytellers whose role is to preserve and pass along the story set in motion by "Ts'its'tsi'nako, Thought Woman" (also called Spider Grandmother, who in many of the Laguna and Acoma stories figures as the original life-force or {249} Creatrix); this story is the life of the people, life for the people. Throughout the novel, passages from the old stories, or "hama-ha" stories as they are called at Laguna and neighboring Acoma, serve to orient a reader already familiar with these stories in the otherwise sometimes chronologically and geographically confusing tale of Silko's twentieth-century protagonist, Tayo. These fragments of story, or embedded texts, remind such an audience that the long story of the people contains precedents for everything that happens in the life of any one of the people. As might be expected, most of the hama-ha stories embedded in Ceremony -- including the story of the family feud between the first sisters, Corn Woman and Reed Woman; the story of the gambler Kaup'a'ta, who once imprisoned the rainclouds; the story of Arrowboy, who disarms the Gunnadeyah witches by seeing what they are up to; and the long nine-part backbone story of the coming of Pa'caya'nyi and Ck'o'yo medicine to the village and the consequent departure and recovery of Our Mother Nau'ts'ity'i -- have clear precedents in the published ethnographic records of Laguna oral tradition. But Silko also weaves in material derived from Navajo story and ceremony, particularly in the episode set in the Chuska Mountains in which Betonie, a venerable old Navajo hataali (singer or "medicine man"), enacts a healing ritual that aligns Tayo with the Ghostway story of a young hunter whose human identity is recovered after having been stolen by Coyote.
        For readers not already familiar with the Laguna and Navajo stories behind the embedded texts in the novel, Silko offers a second, equally illuminating point of reference in the form of the geography and topology -- the "landscape" -- of the novel. In Ceremony, Silko's creative vision is profoundly rooted in the landscape of her native Laguna: "When I was writing Ceremony," she wrote to poet James Wright in 1978, a year after the novel was published, "I was so terribly devastated by being away from Laguna country that the writing was my way of re-making that place, the Laguna country, for myself" (Delicacy 27-28). In some ways, the novel offers the reader a guided tour of Laguna country, as Tayo eventually re-visits every part of it, from the southwestern corner of the reservation around Patoch butte to the westside villages of Cubero and Casablanca; from the one-time truckstop and bar at Budville on the west side to the isolated traditionalist village of Mesita on the east side; from Mt. Taylor in the northwest to Alamo Springs and the sand hills to the southeast; from Paguate village to the north, where some stories say the Laguna people originally emerged from the Fourth World into this one, to Dripping Springs to the south, where water springs cold and clear out of the sides of a sandstone mesa. And at the center of the novel's geography lies Old Laguna village, adobe houses clustered about the gleaming white Catholic mission {250} near its highest point but containing also, as we see at the novel's end, the ceremonial kiva, newly whitewashed for the latest autumnal equinox. This is where Tayo must return to tell, for the first time in his life, his story and theirs to the old men of the village who have been awaiting his return, the way the people in the old stories are always awaiting the recovery of whichever protagonist has departed.
        Reinforcing the novel's dominant theme of departure and recovery, many of the key episodes are situated in border, and therefore potentially transformational, zones -- border towns like Gallup, New Mexico (where Tayo is born) and Villa Cubero (on the western edge of the Laguna reservation, where the Night Swan settles prior to the War); the corner of Mount Taylor called North Top at Laguna, parts of which lie both on and off the reservation; the sheep camp (modeled after the Marmon family ranch) that lies just southwest of Patoch Butte, the formation that marks the southwest corner of the reservation; the two-mile-long open pit Jackpile Mine that lies along Laguna's north border, a monstrous artificial inversion of the lake after which Kawaika (The Beautiful Lake, which the Spanish translated as Laguna) was originally named.
        Set in the years following World War II, Ceremony is above all about healing, and about the healing power of the stories and the land. The disease that has infected the people, including Silko's protagonist Tayo, is the old bane known at Laguna as Ck'o'yo medicine, which takes several new, but precedented, forms in the novel: World War II and its dreadful fallout, including such new art forms as nuclear fission and the atomic weapons capable of destroying all life; the polarization of the world's populations along both ideological and generational lines, including the emergence of a bitter animosity between "full-bloods" and "halfbreeds" that threatens to destroy twentieth-century Native communities; and the pervasive feeling of separation and isolation, of anomie or existential alienation, that came increasingly to characterize the American experience in the twentieth century. What Tayo must come to understand is that these are indeed not separate diseases but rather symptoms of a single disease made insidious precisely by its ability to disguise itself as separate diseases. Like the other Indian veterans who have returned to the reservation communities, Tayo suffers the effects of this disease most overtly in the form of the "war stories" that haunt his dreaming and waking hours, and like most of the other vets Tayo attempts to self-medicate with yet another version of Ck'o'yo medicine, alcohol. But even early in the novel, Tayo vaguely understands that neither the disease nor the cure is that simple. As Silko puts it, "They all had explanations; the police, the doctors at the psychiatric ward; even Auntie and old Grandma; they blamed liquor and they blamed the war"; but when a doctor offers this {251} diagnosis to Tayo, he replies "It's more than that. I can feel it. It's been going on for a long time'" (53). Old Betonie later confirms Tayo's suspicion and gives Tayo a story that effectively locates Tayo's personal illness within the context of the timeless struggle between life and the forces of witchery that seek to consume life; using this story as a corrective lens, and assisted by Spider Grandmother's daughters the Night Swan (prior to the War) and Ts'eh (after the War), Tayo becomes able to complete the healing journey of return that Betonie sets in motion with story and song.

Other works

        Silko continues and develops the role of Laguna storyteller in her next book, aptly titled Storyteller (1981). In critical reviews Storyteller has been variously described as a collage, a montage, or even more loosely an assemblage, and indeed the contents of the book may seem bafflingly random and eclectic until the work is treated as a storytelling performance in which the storyteller is depending on visual imagery to do most of the cultural work of an oral tradition. Seen from this perspective, the text is a virtual encyclopedia of storytelling styles and story materials adapted to textual form, all the kinds and ways of traditional story and storytelling -- from the grave and formal tone of the old hama-ha stories like "One Time" and "Up North" to the conversational, even chatty, cadences of contemporary anecdotes such as "Uncle Tony's Goat" and "I Just Fed the Rooster." As though to make the point that these are not separate kinds of story but rather varieties or phases of a single, familial life form, Silko includes several pieces like "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote Story" and "Storytelling" which clearly contain both kinds of material while showing their family relationship.
        Silko also makes a dramatic point in Storyteller of challenging the usual distinction that most readers are conditioned to make between words and other kinds of visual imagery, for included in the composition of this text are twenty-six photographs which (as we are told in the opening piece of the collection, "There Is a Tall Hopi Basket") are illustrative of this or that piece of prose and poetry, much as the storyteller's body language may illustrate one point or another of the spoken text in a live oral performance. It is a technique she uses at least once in Ceremony: readers will recall the black-and-white star map that appears in the novel near the beginning of the Mt. Taylor episode, an episode that can be read as a re-happening of the older story of Sun Man's showdown with the gambler katsina Kaup'a'ta, which reappears in Storyteller under the title "Up North" -- a story that in turn features a star riddle as its climactic element. Silko makes this technique the formal basis for Sacred Water (1993), subtitled "Narratives and Pictures," {252} a self-published and hand-stitched eighty-pager in which each pair of facing pages shows a photocopied photograph opposite its companion piece of prose. Speaking of this book in a short essay titled "On Nonfiction Prose" she says, "photocopies of my photographs of clouds and dry washes are an integral part of the text; the photocopy images are as much a part of my essay on water as the narrative of the essay . . . In the creation of the text itself, I see no reason to separate visual images from written words that are visual images themselves" (Yellow Woman 195).
        At the same time, the storytelling voice and vision in this book is, like the voice and vision of Ceremony, firmly rooted in the land and landscape of Laguna. In fact, the only verbal piece in Storyteller not set in the Southwest around Laguna or its geographical and sociological neighbor Acoma is the title story, "Storyteller." Perhaps it is equally telling that the only two photographs in the book not taken at or near Laguna (numbers 23 and 25) are both taken in the Arizona landscape outside Tucson, where Silko herself has lived since leaving Laguna and a principle setting for her three subsequent works -- Almanac of the Dead (1991), Sacred Water (1993), and Gardens in the Dunes (1999). Perhaps these two photos are best understood as the author's way of illustrating how the life of a story, like the life of the storyteller who derives from them and cares for them, can bridge the perceived separations not only between moments of time and cultural categories but also between places.
        Forays into non-print narrative with which Silko was involved around the time of the composition of Storyteller parallel her concerns as a storyteller-in-print. In 1978 Silko was the subject of a documentary film entitled "Running on the Edge of the Rainbow," one of a series of filmings of oral narrative performances produced by Larry Evers at the University of Arizona, in which she played herself as a Laguna storyteller. Around this same time Silko began to develop her own interest in the visual arts, in particular filmmaking, an interest encouraged earlier in several graduate courses as well as by her father's career as a professional photographer. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, even while her written work was relocating itself in a much larger sociopolitical context with Tucson rather than Laguna at its center, Silko's filmmaking efforts remained anchored at Laguna. There, she founded the Laguna Film Project with an eye to creating a trilogy of films, to be collectively entitled Stolen Rain. In a 1978 letter to James Wright, Silko speaks of working on "the scripts which attempt to tell the Laguna stories on film using the storyteller's voice with the actual locations where these stories are supposed to have taken place. In a strange sort of way, the film project is an experiment in translation -- bringing the land -- the hills, the arroyos, the boulders, the cottonwoods in October -- to people unfamiliar {253} with it, because after all, the stories grow out of this land as much as we see ourselves as having emerged from the land there" (Delicacy 24). In 1980, with support from an NEH grant and anticipating eventual PBS release, she filmed and produced "Arrowboy and the Witches," a sixty-minute video version of an old Laguna story included in Storyteller under the title "Estoy-eh-moot and the Kunideeyahs" (Storyteller 140-54).5 She filmed it in the mesa country south and west of Old Laguna, a landscape of cottonwoods and sandstone caves in an area locally known as Dripping Springs, which has been in the care of the Marmon family for several generations. As part of the setting for this film but also partly, perhaps, fulfilling the words she attributes to her father in Storyteller -- "You could even live / up here in these hills if you wanted" (161) -- Silko erected a stone cottage near the base of the Dripping Springs mesa. It burned down shortly thereafter, but its ruins are still there, along with the shell of the Spider Grandmother dwelling that also appears in her film.
        As Storyteller does mainly in print and "Arrowboy and the Witches" does mainly in motion-picture form, much of the non-fiction work published by Silko since Storyteller (most of it collected in her 1996 Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit) continues to integrate the conventional domains of visual and verbal art as well as the conventional categories life and land. In 1989, for instance, an essay entitled "The Fourth World" appeared in Artforum, a journal of the visual arts, and in 1995 her photoessay "An Essay on Rocks" appeared in a special issue of Aperture magazine. As in her filmmaking, Silko's creative vision remains grounded in her years growing up at Laguna: in "The Fourth World," Silko speculates about the connections between the high teenage suicide rate around Laguna and the open Jackpile uranium mine, while in "An Essay on Rocks" her story about a boulder in a Tucson arroyo ends with an allusion to the story of a similar rock on Mt. Taylor that first appeared in Storyteller (77-78). And in 1996, the Whitney Museum in New York published Rain, a selection of photographs of Laguna faces and places taken by her father, Lee Marmon, with accompanying text by Silko.
        The concept that printed words themselves are visual images, and thus close relatives of other visual art forms, is also one of the starting points of Silko's most ambitious work to date, Almanac of the Dead (1991). The title refers to the Great Calendar of the Mayan tradition, a way of reckoning time that involves creating and preserving a pictorial image (or "glyph") of each of the faces of time in the understanding that time is a life form that periodically renews itself though transformation: "The days, years, and centuries were spirit beings who traveled the universe, returning endlessly" (523). As Silko tells it in the novel, the sisters Zeta and Lecha, the initial twinned female {254} protagonists of the novel, are keepers of a surviving portion of one of these old Mayan codices, inherited from their grandmother Yoeme (the name means "Yaqui" in the Yaqui language). In this fragment, the past five hundred years -- that is, the years between the time of the sustained European invasion of the Americas and the present of the novel, published on the eve of the US Columbian quincentenary -- is predicted as the epoch of Death-Eye Dog, one of a series of epochs comprising the Long Count; the fragment also contains annotations, made by its various keepers, of historical events that read as fulfillments of the ancient prophecy. Arguably, Silko's novel may be read as yet one more annotation on the epoch of Death-Eye Dog; from this perspective, the novel also may be read as an introduction to the next epoch of human history, a period to be initiated (as in North America's own Ghost Dance prophecies) by "the disappearance of all things European" (Almanac frontispiece).
        In Almanac of the Dead, Silko portrays Tucson, the novel's apparent center of gravity and the setting for much of the story, as a hopelessly corrupt city "home to an assortment of speculators, confidence men, embezzlers, lawyers, judges, police and other criminals, as well as addicts and pushers" (frontispiece), trembling on the edge of apocalyptic redemption thanks to its locus with respect to the Azteca migration motif. But even in Almanac of the Dead, Sterling, Silko's on-again-off-again male protagonist, is a native of Laguna, and the novel can end only when the "Exile" of the novel's second chapter returns to Laguna in its final chapter, titled "Home":

Sterling hiked over the little sand hills across the little valley to the sandstone cliffs where the family sheep camp was. The windmill was pumping lazily in the afternoon breeze, and Sterling washed his face and hands and drank. The taste of the water told him he was home. Even thinking the word made his eyes fill with tears. (757)

Like Tayo's in Ceremony, Sterling's personal history is a story of contact with attractive but dangerous non-Laguna forces, departure from Laguna, and eventual return to Laguna with the acquired knowledge of how to live with those forces. Both men's histories recapitulate the "Yellow Woman" motif that Silko so strongly associates with the image of the river that snakes its way along the southeastern corner of Old Laguna. In Ceremony, Tayo completes his personal return (and re-enacts the annual return of the Laguna katsina spirits) by crossing this river from the southeast at sunrise (255). In Almanac, however, the water-spirit of Kawaika takes the shape of the giant spirit snake Maahastryu, who formerly inhabited the lake after which the Laguna people were originally named. Maahastryu has reappeared in the open pit of the Jackpile uranium mine, "looking south, in the direction from {255} which the twin brothers and the people would come" (763) in fulfillment of a prophecy of which the Laguna story is but a small part.6
        Silko continues to explore the motif of departure and return in Gardens in the Dunes (1999). Set at the turn of the century, this quiet, elegant novel imitates the style of Victorian historical romance in the diction and narrative distance that characterize the telling of the story; ultimately, however, both plot and style work to give voice to Silko's persistently Laguna storytelling persona. Though the protagonist, Indigo, is from Arizona, one of the Sand Lizard clan, the fragile gardens of the title recall Silko's own description of the gardens near the Laguna village of Paguate that were all destroyed by the Jackpile uranium mining operations in the 1950s (Yellow Woman 44). From a Victorian perspective, the novel recounts the life and Pyrrhic liberation of protagonist Hattie Abbott, acquired at the cost of the demise of her photographer and botanist husband Edward Palmer. Hattie and Edward are collectors of exotica, and one of their early acquisitions is the child Indigo, a runaway from the Sherman Indian Institute in Riverside, California. From the perspective of the Indian protagonist, the plot of the novel recapitulates the familiar Laguna motif of departure and recovery: Indigo, like her Laguna analog Kochinninako/Yellow Woman, is spirited away from her homeland by an alien force (here, the failing colonial zeitgeist informing the barren couple Hattie and Edward). After surviving this encounter through a complicated process of both resistance and assimilation, Indigo returns carrying new life for the people -- in the form of her story; in the form of the child newly born to her older sister Salt; in the form of the new alliance between the sisters of the Sand Lizard people and the Laguna sisters Vedna and Maytha; and in the form of the new seeds (exotic gladiolus tubers, which the women plant next to native datura in the ancient Sand Lizard gardens in the dunes). Like the hybrid calves of the speckled Mexican cattle in Ceremony, all these new forms become, by the end of the novel, a part of the long story of the people.
        To date, seven books and innumerable critical essays have been published on Silko's work, and most of the criticism has been positive, especially in the case of Ceremony.7 Silko was recently named a Living Cultural Treasure by the New Mexico Humanities Council. In 1994 she also received the third Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Lifetime Achievement award, an honor she now shares with, among others, N. Scott Momaday (1992), her Acoma neighbor and old friend Simon Ortiz (1993), and longtime Creek friend and co-actress (in "Running on the Edge of the Rainbow") Joy Harjo (1995). Honored by critics and creative writers alike, Leslie Marmon Silko has clearly earned her status as one of America's premiere storytellers.



  1. For a full account of the novel's popularity see Kenneth Roemer, "Silko's Arroyos as Mainstream," in Allan Chavkin, ed., Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony: a Casebook, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 223-39.
  2. The term is from James Ruppert, Mediation in Contemporary Native American Fiction, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
  3. 3. Leslie Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, p. 61. Hereafter this and the following works will be cited parenthetically: Ceremony, New York: Viking, 1977; Almanac of the Dead, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991; Storyteller, New York: Seaver Books, 1981; and Anne Wright, ed., The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright, Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 1986.
  4. 4. The term is Mary Louise Pratt's: see Donald Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, eds., "Arts of the Contact Zone," Ways of Reading: an Anthology for Writers, Boston: St Martin's, 1993; see also Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987.
  5. 5. "Arrowboy and the Witches" (alternately entitled "Estoy-muut and the Gunnadeyah") is available from The Video Tape Co., 10545 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood CA 91601-2280.
  6. 6. Silko offers a non-fictional account of the return of "Ma ah shra true ee, the sacred messenger" (Almanac's "Maahastryu") in her 1989 Artforum essay "The Fourth World" (reprinted, with some changes, in Yellow Woman, pp. 124-34).
  7. For two notable exceptions to this otherwise positive consensus, see Paula Gunn Allen's "Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony," reprinted in Chavkin, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, pp. 83-90), and Shamoon Zamir in Arnold Krupat, ed., New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute, 1993, pp. 396-415.

Major secondary works

Arnold, Ellen, ed., Conversations with Leslie Marmon Silko. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.

Barnett, Louise K., and James L Thorson, eds., Leslie Marmon Silko: a Collection of Critical Essays. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Chavkin, Allan, ed., Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony: a Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Graulich, Melody, ed., "Yellow Woman," Leslie Marmon Silko. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Jaskoski, Helen. Leslie Marmon Silko: a Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Salyer, Gregory. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997.