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If you like N. Scott Momaday's story, you might also like:
Ernest J. Gaines,
Louise Glück,
Norman Mailer,
W.S. Merwin,
James Michener,
Frank McCourt,
Fritz Scholder
and Wole Soyinka

N. Scott Momaday can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

N. Scott Momaday's recommended reading: Smoky the Cow Horse

N. Scott Momaday also appears in the videos:
Justice and the Citizen: MLK, Vol. 2
What is a Hero?
From the Indian Reservation to the Inner City

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring N. Scott Momaday in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Novel
Poets & Poetry

Related Links:
Royce Carlton

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Scott Momaday
Scott Momaday
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Scott Momaday Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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  Scott Momaday

How would you explain to someone who knows nothing about writing, why it is so exciting, so important to you?

Scott Momaday: It's important to me because I am who I am. I have a certain temperament. I was born with certain potentials and possibilities, and I have been fortunate in realizing some of those possibilities. I was inspired to write at a tender age by my mother, who was a writer. I was fortunate to that extent, and I did follow in her footsteps and develop a voice, the voice of a writer. That's what a writer does. I tell young people often, "Don't worry about having a distinctive voice right now, it comes with experience and practice. You will develop a voice." Someone once said to me "Don't worry about imitating someone, that's how you learn." And eventually you will verge out and go on your own voice. I simply kept my goal in mind, and persisted. Perseverance is a large part of writing. So what success I have achieved has come about because of that, simply following the line.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

There is all manner of writing that you could have pursued, but poetry is the one that holds you most enthralled. Why poetry?

Scott Momaday: A poem, if it succeeds, brings together the best of your intelligence, the best of your articulation, the best of your emotion. And that is the highest goal of literature, I suppose.

Poetry, it seems to me and I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, is the crown of literature. To write a great poem is to do as much as you can do in literature. Everything has to be very precise. The poem has to be informed with motive and emotion. You're bringing everything that literature is based upon to bear, when you write a poem. I think of myself as a poet, I'd rather be a poet than a novelist, or some other sort of writer. I think I'm more recognized as a novelist, simply because I won a prize. But I write poetry consistently, though slowly. And it seems to me the thing that I want to do best. I would rather be a poet than a novelist, because I think it's on a slightly higher plane. You know, poets are the people who really are the most insightful among us. They stand in the best position to enlighten us, and encourage, and inspire us. What better thing could you be than a poet? That's how I think of it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Many people do well in school, they're smart, they have talent, they have potential, but they don't always succeed. Why do you think you succeeded in all of this?

Scott Momaday: I really don't know if I have the answer to that.

I wanted to succeed. I wanted to write well, and I tried to. I applied myself. I think that writers haven't much choice. You know, if someone really has the impulse to write, then that's what he must do. I don't think there's much of a choice. After the impulse is realized, he writes. And that's how I feel about my development. I think that I was compelled to write, and so I never had the choice of doing anything else, really. I was talking to some kids today at lunch and they were talking about happiness. One of them said "I'm going to Harvard and I'm going into science, I'm not sure that's really what I want to do. I want to be happy., and I might be happy doing any number of other things." I thought, that's true in a way. But if you are really compelled to write, that's where happiness is. It's in doing what you can do, and being the best you can be at it. That really makes for -- I don't know if I'd use the word happiness, but James Earl Jones today talked about contentment. There is certainly a contentment. A satisfaction in doing what you can do.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

How would you explain to someone what it is about writing that is so exciting and important to you?

There's a lot of frustration in writing. I heard an interview with a writer not long ago in which the interviewer said, tell me, is writing difficult? And the writer said, oh,, of course not. He said, "All you do is sit down at a typewriter, you put a page into it, and then you look at it until beads of blood appear on your forehead. That's all there is to it." There are days like that. But when you come away after two or three hours with a sentence, or two, or three and you understand in your heart that those are the best sentences you could have written in that time, there is a satisfaction to that that is like nothing else. That justifies everything. I think that there are people who have a kind of intrinsic love of language. They're born with it. It's a gift of God, if you want. For those people, nothing is as gratifying as writing. In my experience, most people who have had that gift know it, and they celebrate it which is what ought to happen. I think Emily Dickinson knew absolutely that she had a great, great endowment, and that was her life. It is only incidental that she only published five or seven poems in her lifetime. She knew she was a poet, and one of the best. That had to mean a great deal to her.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

The road to success clearly can take many turns. There are roadblocks and detours. What setbacks have you had along the way and what did you learn from them? How did you deal with them?

Scott Momaday: I've had a number of different problems in my life, which I guess you could call setbacks, because I'm sure they did get in the way of my work. I've gone through two divorces, for example, which were debilitating in their way. I have had fits of depression. Things of that kind which got in the way. I didn't know how to deal with them in every case. It was largely a matter of waiting it out. People speak of writer's block. I guess that one could say that after I published my first novel and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, I found it very difficult to write after that for a long time. And yet, I'm the one who says, "Well, I don't believe in writer's block. That's an excuse of some kind. It doesn't really exist." So I don't know. I just waited until I could write again, and it happened. And that's how it's been, off and on, through my whole career. Things get in the way. I had a heart attack a little over a year ago. A mild one, thank goodness, had angioplasty. That got in the way for a time, but now I'm back to writing and being productive, and that's what matters to me.

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This page last revised on Feb 05, 2008 17:24 EST
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