Reading stories from other cultures is essential to understanding our diverse world. During the month of November, we celebrate National Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage Month. For the next four weeks, we will be spotlighting four different influential Native American authors. Today, we will be highlighting the works of Leslie Silko.
Leslie Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on March 5, 1948. She was raised in a family of Laguna Pueblo, white, and Mexican ancestry on the Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. Much like the characters in her stories, Silko’s upbringing left her at a crossroads between cultures. This caused her to not feel fully accepted by either the Laguna Pubelo people or white people because of her mixed background.
After graduating from the University of New Mexico, she went on to pursue law school but found that it wasn’t the right environment for her to make an impact for her community. She realized that her efforts for Native American justice would be better invested in storytelling and writing. Through her writings, she has created a dialogue about the struggles of the modern Native American and other issues that the Native American community faces.
All of these themes and personal experiences are encapsulated in her most well-known book, Ceremony. This is a story of a war veteran with mixed Laguna and Anglo heritage. The protagonist meets a tribal wise man who teaches him Laguna folklore and traditional ceremonies that help him heal the psychic wounds caused by war. This is a story of contrasting cultures, mental illness, and transformation through his Native American roots. It is critically acclaimed and has given Silko the title of the “first female Native American novelist”. She later received many accolades for this book including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award.
She is still alive today and has most recently written a memoir called The Turquoise Ledge in 2010. She teaches currently at the University of Arizona at Tucson. Check out one of her books this month!