American Literary Legend N. Scott Momaday Talks About the Sacredness of Words

The Kiowa poet and novelist Navarre Scott Momaday was 8 years old when he told his mother he wanted to be a writer. He said she was pleased, possibly because she was a writer herself.

That little boy grew up to become a great American writer, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his first novel, “House Made of Dawn.”

Now at age 89, Momaday is reflective about his life as a storyteller.

“Language is the rock of civilization,” he told host Dean Nelson during a recent interview in his home in Santa Fe as part of the Writer’s Symposium. “Words are sacred. Language is sacred. Words make a family, a tribe, a civilization.”

Over the decades, Momaday used language to tell stories about his Kiowa heritage and the land of his ancestors through books like “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” “In the Bear’s House,” “In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991,” and “The Gourd Dancer.”

“If just one poem stands the test of time, that’s something that justifies your existence,” he said.

In addition to putting words to paper, Momaday is also a painter, creating vivid, flowing art that emerges spontaneously. “I needed to express myself in those terms,” he said.

At the end of this thoughtful, inspiring interview, Momaday reads from his poem “The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee.”

Don’t miss this Writer’s Symposium Presentation, A Conversation with N. Scott Momaday.

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