By THE EDITORS Published: October 29, 2006
When N. Scott Momaday was named a Unesco artist for peace in 2004, he was praised for his dedication to “the safeguarding of indigenous cultures.” Momaday, who reviews Hampton Sides’s Blood and Thunder, refers to the deprivation of American Indians’ land as “the theft of the sacred.” In an e-mail message, he elaborated: “The Indian considers the land to be possessed of spirit, and his identity is bound up in it. ‘Manifest Destiny’ implies that the land can and must be appropriated for the sake of expansion, empire building, profit. It is an enterprise without spirit, and not only Indians have suffered from its unchecked pursuit.”
Momaday, who has been called “the dean of American Indian writers,” said that Indian writing “has come into the mainstream of American letters. I have stated that American literature begins, not with the Puritans in New England, but with an anonymous man or woman incising an image on a canyon wall in Utah 2,000 years ago.” He counts among his influences “the style and rhythms of American Indian oral tradition (given to me first by my father); the example of several writers I admire, among them Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Isak Dinesen and Herman Melville; and Yvor Winters” — the critic was Momaday’s dissertation adviser at Stanford — “who introduced me to several important writers I did not know, and who taught me much of what I know about traditional forms of English poetry. My mother taught me to read and write. I cannot begin to estimate the value of that influence.”
Momaday has ever been wonderfully munificent in his praise for the art and thought of Yvor Winters, which, coming from a writer of such distinction, is alone enough in my estimation to demand that Winters's ideas and work be taken more seriously in literary culture. Among Wintersians, both Momaday's poetry and his fiction are held in nearly the highest regard. I highly recommend House Made of Dawn, a superb novel, and The Way to Rainy Mountain, a lyrical prose chronicle of the Kiowa of innovative form and style yet deep, quiet power. Comparisons of Rainy Mountain with Janet Lewis Winters's The Invasion can yield many insights into the meaning of the experience of Native Americans in American history. For more on Mr. Momaday, search on his name on google. He's well worth looking into. By the way, Lewis's superb Invasion from 1932 remains in print, through Michigan State University Press, the institution where I happen to work nine months of the year. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy before it goes out of print again (I own four copies). Yes, my friends, I hope to talk a great deal about Janet Lewis as this blog trundles on.