InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Access Author Profile Pages by:
 Resource Centers
Textbook Site for:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)
(b. 1934)

N. Scott Momaday often attributes the diversity of his forms of expression to his rich cultural inheritance and varied life experiences. From his father’s family he received Kiowa storytelling traditions and a love of the Rainy Mountain area of Oklahoma. His mother, whose paternal great-grandmother was Cherokee, gave him admiration for literature written in English and the example of how a willful act of imagination could create an “Indian” identity. As Momaday recounts in The Names, during his childhood he lived in non-Indian communities, as well as with several Southwestern tribes, especially the Jemez Pueblo. He attended reservation, public, and parochial schools, a Virginia military academy, the University of New Mexico (political science), the University of Virginia (to study law briefly), and Stanford, where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. and was strongly influenced by his mentor Yvor Winters. Momaday’s teaching career includes professorships at Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Arizona. He has been recognized by both non-Indian and Indian worlds with a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize (for House Made of Dawn), and membership in the Kiowa Gourd Clan.

The tendency toward divers forms of expression is obvious in most of Momaday’s works. In The Names he used fictional, as well as traditional, autobiographical techniques. The poems in The Gourd Dancer, In the Presence of the Sun, and In the Bear’s House range from forms close to American Indian oral traditions (“The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee”) to poems utilizing highly structured written conventions (“Before an Old Painting of the Crucifiction”) to free or open verse (“Comparatives”) and dialogues (“The Bear-God Dialogues”). House Made of Dawn, a powerful novel about an alienated Jemez Pueblo World War II veteran, is told from different viewpoints and exhibits styles as direct as Hemingway’s, as dense as Faulkner’s, and as resonant as the songs of the Navajo Nightway ceremony, the source of the novel’s title. Several of his works—most notably In the Presence of the Sun and Circle of Wonder—combine written and visual expressions. His second novel, Ancient Child, juxtaposes ancient Kiowa bear narratives, a contemporary artist’s male mid-life crisis story, and Billy the Kid fantasies.

It is The Way to Rainy Mountain, however, that more than any other of his works demonstrates Momaday’s ability to break through generic boundaries. In his essay “The Man Made of Words” (available in The Remembered Earth, ed. Geary Hobson, 1979/1981), Momaday describes the composition process that began with his desire to comprehend his Kiowa identity and with the collecting from Kiowa elders of stories. To all but a few of these brief tribal and family stories he added short historical and personal “commentaries.” Momaday then arranged twenty-four of these three-voice sections into three divisions (“The Setting Out,” “The Going On,” “The Closing In”) to suggest several physical and spiritual journeys, the two most obvious being the migration and history of the Kiowa and the gradual development of his Kiowa identity. The three divisions were framed by two poems and three lyric essays (Prologue, Introduction, Epilogue) that combine mythic, historic, and personal perspectives.

The selections in the book, taken from each of the three divisions of Rainy Mountain, suggest the nature of the form and themes—themes that reappear in most of Momaday’s works: celebrating the importance of the imagination, memory, and oral traditions; seeing the land as a crucial aspect of identity; acknowledging the power of American Indian concepts of sacredness, beauty, and harmony; and revering a sense of language that encompasses economy, power, delight, and wonder.

Kenneth M. Roemer
University of Texas at Arlington

In the Heath Anthology
from The Way To Rainy Mountain (1969)

Other Works
House Made of Dawn (1968)
The Gourd Dancer (1976)
The Names: A Memoir (1976)
The Ancient Child (1989)
In the Presence of the Sun (1992)
Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story (1994)

Cultural Objects
Sound fileKiowa Chants and Songs

Would you like to add a Cultural Object?

There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.


Modern American Poetry
Provides biographical data, criticism of several Momaday works, scans of his visual artwork, links, and more.

Native American Authors Project
A biographical sketch, links, and a list of primary materials.

The Buffalo Trust
Information about the Buffalo Trust, an organization founded and chaired by Momaday.

The Hall of Arts
Pite provides an interview peppered with photographs.

Secondary Sources

Approaches to Teaching Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain, ed. Kenneth M. Roemer, 1988

Maurice Boyd, Kiowa Voices, Vols. 1 and 2 (1981; 1983) Conversations with N. Scott Momaday [collected interviews], ed. Matthias Schubnell, 1997

Hartwig Isernhagen, Momaday, Vizenor, Armstrong [interviews], 1999

Susan Scarberry-Garcia, Landmarks of Healing, 1990

Matthias Schubnell, N. Scott Momaday, 1985

Matthias Schubnell, "N. Scott Momaday" in Native American Writers of the United Stated, ed. Kenneth M. Roemer, 1997 (174-86)

Martha Scott Trimble, "N. Scott Momaday" in Fifty Western Writers, eds. Fred Erisman and Richard W. Etulain, 1982 (313-24)

Charles L. Woodard, Ancestral Voices [interviews], 1989