Honorary festival chair N. Scott Momaday believes in the power of story



Santa Fe New Mexican


Who’s Who And Who’s Here

Pulitzer Prize–winning author N. Scott Momaday presides over the Santa Fe International Literary Festival as honorary chair. The symbolic designation — “I’m not sure what my duties are, but I take them seriously,” he says — recognizes his legacy as an author, storyteller, and educator. “We couldn’t possibly be more honored to have N. Scott Momaday as not just a friend of the festival but as our honorary chair,” says Mark Bryant, Santa Fe International Literary Festival co-founder and chief curator. “Poet, writer, editor, painter, Pulitzer Prize winner, and international treasure, Scott is legend. His profound and revolutionary works — House Made of Dawn and The Ancient Child, to name just two of his many books — have inspired generations of readers and writers around the world. We’re extremely privileged to have him with us over the festival weekend.” Momaday attends the festival as an honored guest. The Oklahoma-born Kiowa poet spent significant time at Walatowa (Jemez Pueblo) in his youth and is a longtime Santa Fe resident. After studying poetry at the University of New Mexico and Stanford, and a teaching stint at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Momaday earned critical and popular acclaim with 1969’s House Made of Dawn. Set at Jemez Pueblo, the book earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Momaday went on to be recognized as one of the premier Native writers of the twentieth century. The National Medal of Arts–winning author has published nearly 20 books, including The Way to Rainy Mountain in 1969, The Names in 1976, 2020’s Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land, and Dream Drawings: Configurations of a Timeless Kind in 2022. The 2019 PBS American Masters documentary Words from a Bear chronicled his life and career, which has included tenured professorships at several institutions, such as Stanford and the University of Arizona. He’s a recognized scholar and lecturer on Native American oral traditions — and on the prevailing power of story, whether spoken or written. “We’re all deeply involved in story, whether we know it or not,” Momaday says. “They tell us who we are. Story has allowed me to formulate an idea of who I am.” The 89-year-old is penning a book on the story of the Kiowa, his people. “In that way, it becomes a memoir,” he says. It begins with their migration from the north to settle on what is now the American plains. “I’m dealing with a kind of prehistory. There are no written records of the migration. It was all told by word of mouth, so I’m imagining a lot to begin with. I have a blood memory of it. That leads into the golden age of the Kiowas, Plains culture, and myself — a story I know well,” he says. He expects to deliver a first draft to his publisher later this year. Momaday says gatherings like the Santa Fe International Literary Festival illustrate how oral and literary storytelling go hand in hand. “The oral tradition is very much alive, and everyone uses it whether they are conscious of it or not,” he says. “In both the oral and literary experience, several things must happen: One must speak responsibly. One must listen carefully. And one must remember what he heard.”