Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Leslie Marmon Silko

(1948- )

The poet and novelist Leslie Marmon Silko was born on March 5, 1948 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A. She is of mixed Laguna Pueblo, Mexican and white heritage and she grew up on the Laguna Indian Reservation in eastern New Mexico. As a child Silko attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Later she commuted about 100 miles every day to attend a high school in Albuquerque. In 1969, she graduated from the University of New Mexico magna cum laude with a degree in English. She then enrolled in law school but soon left to pursue a writing career. Silko was influenced by the stories of her people that she heard while growing up on the reservation and they gave her a sense of identity and pride. She wrote poems, short stories and novels drawing on these traditions.

She married John Silko, an attorney, and had two sons, Robert (born 1966) and Cazimir (born 1972). While living in Alaska in the mid-1970s, Silko wrote Ceremony, the novel she published in 1977. It was one of the first published novels by an American Indian woman (a book by Mourning Dove was probably the first) and received critical acclaim. The MacArthur Foundation awarded her a "genius" fellowship which supported her work on the next novel, Almanac of the Dead, published in 1991. The novel contrasts the decay of the Western society with the culture of the Native American people.

In addition to writing, Leslie Marmon Silko has taught English at the Navajo Community College, at the University of New Mexico, and at the University of Arizona. She is considered one of today's most important Native American writers.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1999.

1. The Encyclopedia of Native American Biography : Six Hundred Life Stories of Important People, from Powhatan to Wilma Mankiller by Bruce E. Johnsen, Donald A. Grinde, Jr., Da Capo Press, 1998
2. Her Heritage: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Famous American Women, CD ROM, Pilgrim New Media, Inc., 1994 (http://www.PLGRM.com)
3. Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996

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