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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: 5 / 5)

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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  Scott Momaday

What concerns you most these days? Is there some idea or problem that holds your attention? Especially as we look ahead towards the 21 century? What are the challenges?

Scott Momaday Interview Photo
Scott Momaday: Yes, there are certain things that concern me deeply. One of them is the way we treat our environment. We haven't done a very good job in protecting our planet. We have failed to recognize the spiritual life of the earth. I feel a sense of futility, because I think there's not much I can do about it, but I will, to the best of my ability, try to change that. I'm not at all confident that I can, but if I make the effort, that will mean something.

I want to produce a certain amount of work. I think I have things left to do. As I grow older, it becomes a race. That's something that concerns me. Will I be able to do the things that I've set for myself to do? Who knows? That's something that concerns me too.

What it is that you haven't done that you would like to do?

Scott Momaday: I have certain writing projects that I want to complete. I'm just now beginning a play that has been commissioned by the Denver Theater Center. I want to come up with a first draft of that. That's something I think I can do, with a little luck. I'm not that advanced in age as yet.

Long term things? I want to write a novel based on the '60s, which seems to me the most important decade of this century, to date, and it looks like it's going to hold up. I lived in California during the '60s and it was a very important time in our history. You stop to think about what happened in that decade and it boggles the mind. We had those terrible assassinations, we had the civil rights movement, and we ended up by going to the moon. That was a good time in which to have lived, and I want to write about that. It's on the back burner. I'm not sure when I'm going to get to that, or how long it will take to put it out, but I would like to do it. I hope I will.

In reading about you, and in thinking about this era we're going through, with all of the controversy about immigration, and assimilation, and identity, I wonder: How does one maintain an identity, a sense of what you are, while still moving over into the mainstream of American life? How do you do that? It seems to be a big issue today, and you have done that so successfully. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Scott Momaday: I am lucky, because I do have a sense of my Indian heritage. That's very firmly fixed in my imagination and in my mind. I am more fortunate than most other people.

When I published The Way to Rainy Mountain , someone who was writing a review -- or interviewing me -- said to me, "You know, you're very lucky to know who you are, with respect to your grandparents, your great-grandparents, five generations back. You know about that. I don't know that about myself, or my people." And that came as a surprise to me, because I hadn't thought about it, you know. And I had taken it for granted. But I sometimes think that the contemporary white American is more culturally deprived than the Indian, in that sense. Because very few people know about their ancestry, going back even a generation. I'm always appalled by students who -- you know, I say, "Well look, you've got an oral tradition. You've got a family oral tradition, if nothing else. Tell me about your grandparents." And sometimes they just don't know about their grandparents, and I find that very sad, and alarming, but it's true. It's true.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Scott Momaday Interview Photo

It's possible to have both. It's possible to have this identity, this cultural inheritance, whether Indian, or black, or Polish, whatever it is, and still be a part of this country.

Scott Momaday: Yeah, I think that's how it works. This country is made up of people who have both things, or the possibility of both things. I don't think people appreciate that enough. We need to talk to them about that. Spend some time thinking about who you are and how you became who you are. It's important. We're moving at such a pace that very few of us stop to reflect upon it. Reflection is important.

Looking back and reflecting, from this vantage point, what advice do you have for young people just starting out? What do you say to them?

Scott Momaday: Fix your sight upon something and then go after it, and try not to be deflected. You have something that most of us don't have and that is time. You have time in which to deliberate, time in which to reflect, time in which to determine who you are. Use it. Don't panic. A lot of kids tend to panic, but I say just take it easy. But go for something. Move positively towards some goal that you would like to achieve. Always think, ask yourself how you would like to be known. Don't let yourself be determined by others. And this is especially true where young people are concerned, because everybody wants to determine them. And they have very few defenses against that. So I say, for God's sake, you know, don't let other people tell you who you are. If I had let people tell me who I was, I would have dropped back there somewhere. Determine who you are, and don't let anybody else do it for you. That's the best advice I can give a young person.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

If you had to choose one book or two to read to your grandchildren, what would it be?

Scott Momaday: Of all the books in the world? Oh dear, how can I answer that? That's an impossible question! You can read the collected works of William Shakespeare and find out a great deal about life in the world and the way people act in each other's presence. You can read the Bible to the same effect. I probably would want to aim a little lower than those things though and say, "Why don't you read Moby Dick ?" If you can read that and not be somehow fulfilled, then there's something wrong with you.

What does the American Dream mean to you?

Scott Momaday: It means a great deal actually, and the reason it does has something to do with my being a Native American. I belong to a race of people, a society that has been oppressed. We, the Indians, have had a hard time, for a long time. We have had to endure a great deal, but the dream means as much to us as it does to anyone. You'll never find a greater patriot than an American Indian. It's not by accident that I, the member of the Gourd Dance society, go to Oklahoma to dance on the 4th of July, you know. It is not an accident that the greatest honor that can come to an American Indian in my generation is to serve in the Armed Forces. And the veterans who have given their lives are greatly honored by the Native people. So, the dream is very important to me, and it is, I think, to Native Americans in general.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

You're very welcome.

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