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Leslie Marmon Silko

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Title: Leslie Marmon Silko  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Almanac of the Dead, Postmodern literature, Ceremony (Silko novel), Lee Marmon, Meetup/Native American Literatures Symposium (Albuquerque: March 12th 2015)
Collection: 1948 Births, 20Th-Century American Novelists, 20Th-Century American Poets, 20Th-Century Women Writers, American Poets of Mexican Descent, American Women Novelists, American Women Poets, American Women Short Story Writers, American Women Writers, American Writers of Mexican Descent, Hispanic and Latino American Novelists, Laguna Pueblo, Living People, MacArthur Fellows, Native American Essayists, Native American Novelists, Native American Poets, Native American Short Story Writers, People from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Postmodern Writers, Women Essayists, Women Short Story Writers, Writers from New Mexico
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko
Born Leslie Marmon
March 5, 1948
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Occupation Writer, educator, film maker
Nationality Laguna Pueblo
Genre Fiction
Literary movement Native American Renaissance
Notable work Ceremony (1977)

Leslie Marmon Silko (born Leslie Marmon; born March 5, 1948) is a Laguna Pueblo writer and one of the key figures in the First Wave of what literary critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

Silko was a debut recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Grant, now known as the "Genius Grant", in 1981 and the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.[1] She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona.


  • Early life 1
  • Early literary work 2
  • Literary relevance and themes 3
  • Ceremony 4
  • 1980s 5
    • Storyteller 5.1
    • Delicacy and Strength of Lace 5.2
  • 1990s 6
    • Almanac of the Dead 6.1
    • Sacred Water 6.2
    • Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today 6.3
    • Rain 6.4
    • Garden In The Dunes 6.5
  • 2000s 7
    • The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir 7.1
  • Essays 8
  • Personal life 9
  • Bibliography 10
    • Novels 10.1
    • Poetry and short story collections 10.2
    • Other works 10.3
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life

Leslie Marmon Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Leland Howard Marmon, a noted photographer, and Mary Virginia Leslie.

Silko has noted herself as being 1/4 Laguna Pueblo (a Keres speaking tribe), also identifying as Anglo American and Mexican American.

Silko grew up on the edge of pueblo society both literally – her family’s house was at the edge of the Laguna Pueblo reservation – and figuratively, as she was not permitted to participate in various tribal rituals or join any of the pueblo's religious societies.

While her parents worked, Silko and her two sisters were cared for by their grandmother, Lillie Stagner, and great-grandmother, Helen Romero, both story-tellers.[2] Silko learned much of the traditional stories of the Laguna people from her grandmother, whom she called A'mooh, her aunt Susie, and her grandfather Hank during her early years. As a result, Silko has always identified most strongly with her Laguna ancestry, stating in an interview with Alan Velie, "I am of mixed-breed ancestry, but what I know is Laguna".[3]

Silko's education included preschool through the fourth grade at Laguna BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) School and followed by Albuquerque Indian School (a private day school), the latter meant a day's drive by her father of 100 miles to avoid the boarding-school experience. Silko went on to receive a BA from the University of New Mexico in 1969; she briefly attended the University of New Mexico law school before pursuing her literary career full-time.

Early literary work

Silko garnered early literary acclaim for her short story "The Man to Send Rain Clouds," which was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant. The story continues to be included in anthologies.

During the years 1968 to 1974, Silko wrote and published many short stories and poems that were featured in her Laguna Woman (date).

Her other publications, include: Laguna Woman: Poems (1974), Ceremony (1977), Storyteller (1981), and, with the poet James A. Wright, With the Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright (1985). Almanac of the Dead, a novel, appeared in 1991, and a collection of essays, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, was published in 1996.[4]

Literary relevance and themes

Throughout her career as a writer and teacher, she has remained grounded in the history-filled landscape of the Laguna Pueblo. Her experiences in the culture have fueled an interest to preserve cultural traditions and understand the impact of the past on contemporary life. A well-known novelist and poet, Silko's career has been characterized by making people aware of ingrained racism and white cultural imperialism, and a commitment to support women's issues.[5] Her novels have many characters who attempt what some perceive a simple yet uneasy return to balance Native American traditions survivalism with the violence of modern America. The clash of civilizations is a continuing theme in the modern Southwest and of the difficult search for balance that the region’s inhabitants encounter.[6]

Her literary contributions are particularly important because they open up the Anglo-European prevailing definitions of the American literary tradition to accommodate the often underrepresented traditions, priorities, and ideas about identity that in a general way characterize many American Indian cultures and in a more specific way form the bedrock of Silko's Laguna heritage and experience.


Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony was first published by Penguin in March 1977 to much critical acclaim.

The novel tells the story of Tayo, a wounded returning World War II veteran of mixed Laguna-white ancestry following a short stint at a Los Angeles VA hospital. He is returning to the poverty-stricken Laguna reservation, continues to suffer from "battle fatigue" (shell-shock), and is haunted by memories of his cousin Rocky who died in the conflict during the Bataan Death March of 1942. His initial escape from pain discovers his alcoholism but his Old Grandma and mixed-blood Navajo medicine-man Betonie help him through native ceremonies to develop a greater understanding of the world and his place as a Laguna man.

Ceremony has been called a Grail fiction, wherein the hero overcomes a series of challenges to reach a specified goal; but this point of view has been criticized as Eurocentric, since it involves a Native American contextualizing backdrop, and not one based on European-American myths. Silko's writing skill in the novel is deeply rooted in the use of story telling that pass on traditions and understanding from the old to the new. Fellow Pueblo poet Paula Gunn Allen criticized the book on this account, saying that Silko was divulging secret tribal knowledge reserved for the tribe, not outsiders.[7]

Ceremony gained immediate and long-term acceptance when returning Vietnam war veterans took to the novel's theme of coping, healing and reconciliation between races and people that share the trauma of military actions. It was largely on the strength of this work that critic Alan Velie named Silko one of his Four Native American Literary Masters, along with N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor and James Welch.

Ceremony remains a literary work featured on college and university syllabi, and one of the few individual works by any Native American author to have received book-length critical inquiry.



In 1981, Silko released Storyteller, a collection of poems and short stories that incorporated creative writing, mythology, and autobiography, which garnered favorable reception as it followed in much the same poetic form as the novel Ceremony.

Delicacy and Strength of Lace

In 1986, Delicacy and Strength of Lace was released. The book is a collected volume of correspondence between Silko and her friend James Wright whom she met following the publication of Ceremony. The work was edited by Wright's wife, Ann Wright, and released after Wright's death in March 1980.


Almanac of the Dead

Almanac of the Dead was published in 1991. This work took Silko ten years to complete and received mixed reviews. The vision of the book stretched over both American continents and included Chiapas revolutionaries the Zapatista Army of National Liberation as just a small part of the pantheon of characters. The theme of the novel, like Ceremony, focuses on the conflict between Anglo-Americans and Native Americans.

The work was heavily criticised for its attitude towards homosexuality as Silko pens many of the major villains in the novel as gay,[8] and for an improper interpretation and incorporation of the Popol Vuh. Almanac of the Dead has not achieved the same mainstream success as its predecessor.

Sacred Water

In June 1993, Silko published a limited run of Sacred Water under Flood Plain Press, a self-printing venture by Silko. Each copy of Sacred Water is handmade by Silko using her personal typewriter combining written text set next to poignant photographs taken by the author.

Sacred Water is composed of autobiographical prose, poetry and pueblo mythology focusing on the importance and centrality of water to life.

Silko issued a second printing of Sacred Water in 1994 in order to make the work more accessible to students and academics although it was limited. This edition used printing methods suited for a greater production distribution.

Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today

Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today was published by Simon & Schuster in March 1997.

The work is a collection of short stories on various topics; including an autobiographical essay of her childhood at Laguna Pueblo and the racism she faced as a mixed blood person; stark criticism directed at President Bill Clinton regarding his immigration policies; and praise for the development of and lamentation for the loss of the Aztec and Maya codices, along with commentary on Pueblo mythology.

As one reviewer notes, Silko "encompass traditional storytelling, discussions of the power of words to the Pueblo, reminiscences on photography, frightening tales of the U.S. border patrol, historical explanations of the Mayan codices, and socio-political commentary on the relationship of the U.S. government to various nations, including the Pueblo." [9]


In 1997, Silko ran a limited number of handmade books through Flood Plain Press. Like Sacred Water, Rain was again a combination of short autobiographical prose and poetry inset with her photographs.

The short volume focused on the importance of rain to personal and spiritual survival in the Southwest.

Garden In The Dunes

Gardens in the Dunes was published in 1999. The work weaves together themes of feminism, slavery, conquest and botany, while following the story of a young girl named Indigo from the fictional "Sand Lizard People" in the Arizona Territory and her European travels as a summer companion to an affluent White woman named Hattie.

The story is set against the back drop of the enforcement of Indian boarding schools, the California Gold Rush and the rise of the Ghost Dance Religion.


The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir

In 2010, Silko released The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir. Written using distinctive prose and overall structure influenced by Native American storytelling traditions, the book is a broad-ranging exploration not only of her Laguna Pueblo, Cherokee, Mexican and European family history but also of the natural world, suffering, insight, environmentalism and the sacred. The desert southwest setting is prominent. Although non-fiction, the stylized presentation is reminiscent of creative fiction.


A longtime commentator on Native American affairs, Silko has published many non-fictional articles on Native American affairs and literature.

Silko's two most famous essays are outspoken attacks on fellow writers. In "An Old-Fashioned Indian Attack in Two Parts", first published in Geary Hobson’s collection The Remembered Earth (1978), Silko accused Gary Snyder of profiting from Native American culture, particularly in his collection Turtle Island, the name and theme of which was taken from Pueblo mythology.

In 1986, Silko published a review entitled "Here’s an Odd Artifact for the Fairy-Tale Shelf", on Anishinaabe writer Louise Erdrich's novel The Beet Queen. Silko claimed Erdrich had abandoned writing about the Native American struggle for sovereignty in exchange for writing "self-referential," postmodern fiction.

In 2012, the textbook, Rethinking Columbus, which includes an essay by her, was banned by the Tucson Unified School District following a statewide ban on Ethnic and Cultural Studies.[10][11]

Personal life

In 1965, she married Richard C. Chapman, and together, they had a son, Robert Chapman, before divorcing in 1969.

In 1971, she and John Silko were married. They had a son, Kazimir Silko. This marriage also ended in divorce.




Poetry and short story collections

  • Laguna Women: Poems (1974)
  • Western Stories (1980)
  • Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures. Flood Plain Press. 1994.  
  • Rain (1996)
  • Love poem and Slim Canyon (1996)
  • Oceanstory (2011) Published as a Kindle Single and available for digital download on

Other works

  • The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir (2010)
  • Ellen L. Arnold, ed. (2000). Conversations with Leslie Marmon Silko. University Press of Mississippi.  
  • Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today. Simon and Schuster. 1997.  
  • Melody Graulich, ed. (1993). Yellow woman. Rutgers University Press.  
  • Delicacy And Strength of Lace Letters (1986)
  • "Indian Song: Survival", Chicago Review, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Spring, 1973), pp. 94–96

See also


  1. ^ List of NWCA Lifetime Achievement Awards, accessed 6 Aug 2010.
  2. ^ Silko, Leslie Marmon 1948 -. (1999). In The Cambridge guide to women's writing in English. Retrieved from
  3. ^ Nichols, Nafeesa T. (Fall 1997). "Leslie Marmon Silko". Emory University. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 
  4. ^ Fabian, A.(1998). Silko, Leslie Marmon (1948--). In The new encyclopedia of the American West. Retrieved from
  5. ^ Carden, M.(2005). Silko, Leslie Marmon. In Encyclopedia of women's autobiography. Retrieved from
  6. ^ Fabian, A.(1998). Silko, Leslie Marmon (1948--). In The new encyclopedia of the American West. Retrieved from
  7. ^ Allen, Paula Gunn (Fall 1990). "Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony". American Indian Quarterly 23 (4): 379–86. .
  8. ^ Romero, Channette. – Project MUSE: "Envisioning a "Network of Tribal Coalitions": Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead". – The American Indian Quarterly. – Volume 26, Number 4, Fall 2002. pp.623–640.
  9. ^ Osborne-Mcknight, Juliene (Summer 1996). "Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today by Leslie Marmon Silko". The Antioch Review 54 (3): 364.  
  10. ^ Biggers, Jeff (January 13, 2012). "Who’s afraid of "The Tempest"?". salon. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 
  11. ^ Norrell, Brenda (January 14, 2012). "Tucson schools bans books by Chicano and Native American authors". narcosphere. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 

External links

  • Works by or about Leslie Marmon Silko in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Biography
  • Voices from the Gaps biography
  • "Leslie Marmon Silko" by Per Seyersted in the Western Writers Series Digital Editions at Boise State University
  • "Leslie Marmon Silko – Q&A – AZ Ethnic Studies Ban", soundcloud
  • KCRW Bookworm Interview
  • Leslie Marmon Silko in The Earth is Crying, 1986
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