Leslie Marmon Silko

 Watch video of Leslie Marmon Silko's April 6, 2011, reading.

Leslie Marmon Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1948 to Leland Howard Marmon and Mary Virginia Leslie. She grew up fifty miles away at the Laguna Pueblo in Laguna, New Mexico, and has lived in Tucson for the last thirty years. Her mixed ancestry has influenced her work in myriad ways. Growing up on the edge of the Laguna Pueblo reservation, she was positioned between cultures. As a child, she learned the oral tradition of the Laguna and Keres people through stories passed down by her grandmother Lilly and her Aunt Susie. Silko has deepened her affiliation with her tribe through her books, which draw on Laguna myths and story-telling traditions. She has acknowledged the influence of her own family’s storytelling on her method and vision.

In 1969, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of New Mexico. The same year, she published her first short story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” and received the National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant. After a brief time in law school, she left in 1971 to pursue a career in writing. She began writing poetry based on traditional stories and legends she learned from her family. In 1974, while teaching at Navajo Community College, she published Laguna Woman, a collection of poems filled with the images of animals, landscapes, weather, and colors that earned a poetry award from The Chicago Review.

In 1977, she published her first novel, Ceremony, which tells of a World War II veteran’s struggle to adjust to life back on the reservation after the war. Ceremony established Silko as an important Native American writer. In 1981, Storyteller was published, interweaving a collection of poems and short stories. In the New York Times Book Review, Pulitzer-prize winning novelist N. Scott Momaday called Storyteller "a rich, many-faceted book" and remarked that "Leslie Silko is very good indeed. She has a sharp sense of the way in which the profound and the mundane often run together."

Her second novel Almanac of the Dead, the culmination of years of research, thought, and efforts for justice for Indigenous people, was published in 1991. The novel defines choices between creation and destruction on social and spiritual levels. In 1993, she self-published her multi-genre book Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures. Her collection of essays in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, published in 1996, addresses human concerns such as politics and hunger through a storyteller’s voice that focuses on the spirit of Native Americans. Silko's third novel Gardens in the Dunes (1999) directly contrasts the traditional world of Native Americans with European and American upper-class culture. Her latest work, The Turquoise Ledge (2010), takes readers along on her daily walks through the arroyos and ledges of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. It is a personal reflection, located between the spiritual and natural worlds, that weaves tales from her past with observations from the present.

Silko has won many major awards including the Pushcart Prize for Poetry, the MacArthur “Genius” Award, the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities “Living Cultural Treasure” Award, and the Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award.

May 11, 2011