Momaday upholds oral tradition at UAA

Packed tightly in the Business Education Building's lecture hall, an audience of 200-plus was exposed to the power of oral tradition with thePulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, playwright, painter and professor N. Scott Momaday. The overly occupied facility in the BEB, filled with 200 or more, was hardly adequate to accommodate the masses gathered on Oct. 26 to see the professor of English and American literature.

The entire room listened reverently to Momaday's impacting poetry oration, hanging on his every word, as he unraveled his Kiowa Native pedigree. Influenced by writers Emily Dickinson and Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Momaday emphasized Native oral tradition and sacred ideas. “Writing gives a false sense of security…those with an oral tradition believe in the power and beauty of language,” Momaday said.

Currently teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Momaday came to Alaska as an adjunct professor from the University of Arizona Tucson.

“When we heard he'd [Momaday] be at UAF, we started working on bringing him to UAA to give students a chance to meet and hear him,” said Sherry Simpson, UAA creative writing and literary arts professor.

Pullitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday gave a public reading to a packed room Friday night in the BEB building. (By Brad Burich/ Northern Light)

The first novel Momaday wrote, “House Made of Dawn,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Momaday writes fiction, poetry and memoirs about his connection to his heritage and spirituality. Recent books written by Momaday include “In the Bear's House,” “Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story” and “The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages.” “The Names” and “The Way to Rainy Mountain” are memoirs he was written and “Angles of Geese” and “Other Poems” are books of poetry written by Momaday. In 1989, Momaday published the novel “The Ancient Child,” and in 1994 his play “The Indolent Boys,” premiered on the Syracuse stage.

“I like to write about the land, man's relation to the land and the spiritual aspects of the land,” said Momaday.

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After a short introduction, Momaday broke the ice by telling a story about how he would compose epitaphs in is head to break the boredom of swimming laps. Despite Momaday's serious subject matter, a couple of humorous epitaphs had the audience laughing through the filled isles.

Momaday began reading poetry excerpts including a poem about an experience when he met and visited Georgia O'Keeffe. Not only providing insight into the life of the legendary artist of the twentieth century, Momaday's eloquent words painted a vivid mental image of O'Keeffe's personality.

Currently working on a Buffalo Trust Project, Momaday hopes to return to the children of the next generation the aspects of Native American heritage. In a question and answer session after the poetry reading Momaday spoke in high regard of Alaska Native recognition.

“The stories I've heard in Alaska are richer…In Alaska, I have the sense the situation is better. Natives aren't recognized like they are here,” Momaday said.

After the reading, members of the community were provided an opportunity to have Momaday autograph book copies. On Oct. 29 Momaday attended a student reception and book signing in the UAA Campus Bookstore further giving students an opportunity to meet and interact with the writer.