It’s hard to guess which of us was more surprised. In our most recent book group, Irene Palmer asked me if I had read “House Made of Dawn” by N. Scott Momaday. Happens I had, thanks to a literature professor committed to diversity in the literary canon she taught.
But hold on there, Irene. How did you happen on this literary treasure, published back in 1969 that won a Pulitzer Prize and established Momaday on the literary scene. A Kiowa who grew up in New Mexico among the Pueblo and Navajo, Momaday is credited with nudging Native American literature into the mainstream.
Irene discovered Momaday, when he was mentioned in a Ken Burns documentary on World War II. It turns out that Momaday, among many awards, received the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize in 2019, which honors an individual whose body of work has advanced our collective understanding of the indomitable American spirit. That’s Irene, she takes notes and searches things out.
I haven’t read Momaday since my college days, but I kept my paperback of “House Made of Dawn” among the books I couldn’t part with (Terry Tempest Williams, Willa Cather, John Nichols, Wallace Stegner, Tony Morrison, Edward Abbey…). But unlike the books from those other authors, I didn’t go back and reread House Made of Dawn.
Thanks to my mother whose curiosity — always far-ranging — has lately pulled her into the realm of fiction. Previously, she has preferred nonfiction — biographies, history, philosophy, religion.
What we are remarking on, as we read Momaday, is the poetic cadence of his story-telling. It should be no surprise that this well-regarded author has several volumes of poetry. I expect we’ll go there next. Unless my curious mother finds some other path to wander.