Leslie Marmon Silko: Biography, Poems & Books

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  • 0:04 Biography
  • 1:02 Writing Career
  • 1:42 Poetry
  • 3:03 Books
  • 4:23 List of Popular Works
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

Leslie Marmon Silko is considered the first acclaimed Native American female writer and has continued to make strides for both Native Americans and women in Western culture. This lesson will explore her life story, as well as her literary career.

Biography

Born to the name Leslie Marmon on March 5, 1948 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a house bordering the Laguna Pueblo reservation, Silko identifies as Laguna Pueblo, Anglo American, and Mexican American. Though she is one-fourth Laguna, she was not allowed to participate in any tribal activity, be it religious or ritualistic. Because her parents worked out of the house, Silko was cared for by her grandmother and great-grandmother, who were both known to be great storytellers among the Laguna people. This is where Silko developed her own storytelling abilities and her strong connection to her Laguna heritage.

To keep her from having to attend a boarding school, Silko's father drove her to a private Indian school, driving over 100 miles each day. His devotion paid off, however, because she went on to the University of New Mexico to receive her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969. After a brief stint studying law, she decided to commit to writing full time.

Writing Career

Silko's first moment of critical acclaim was with her short story ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds,'' published in 1969. The story has since received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant and continues to be a popular story in anthologies. Silko continued on to win a Pushcart Prize for Poetry and a MacArthur ''Genius'' Award. In 1988, she received the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities ''Living Cultural Treasure'' Award. Her collaborated nonfiction piece with writer James Wright, The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, won the Boston Globe Book Prize in nonfiction. Silko has come to be seen as the first acclaimed Native American woman writer.

Poetry

Silko's poetry is most notably lyrical and concerns Native American subjects and stories that have come from her family. She combines her use of storytelling with mythical and natural elements. She turns oral storytelling traditions to the page, blending her Laguna heritage with Western literary elements.

This is called ''Love Poem'' by Leslie Marmon Silko:

''Rain smell comes with the wind
out of the southwest.
Smell of sand dunes
tall grass glistening
in the rain.
Warm raindrops that fall easy
(this woman)
The summer is born.
Smell of her breathing new life
small gray toads on
damp sand.
(this woman)
whispering to dark wide leaves
white moon blossoms dripping
tracks in the
sand.
Rain smell
I am full of hunger
deep and longing to touch
wet tall grass, green and strong beneath.
This woman loved a man
and she breathed to him
her damp earth song.
I was haunted by this story
I remember it in cottonwood leaves
their fragrance in
the shade.
I remember it in the wide blue sky
when the rain smell comes with the wind.''

Note how her use of sensory details captures the essence of oral storytelling and creates an almost physical experience for the reader. This is a love poem that incorporates sensuality, femininity, and nature.

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