After graduation from the University of New Mexico, and a year of teaching on the Apache reservation at Jicarilla, Momaday won a poetry fellowship to the creative writing program at Stanford University. Under the guidance of poet and critic Yvor Winters, Momaday earned a doctorate in English literature in 1963, and accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Santa Barbara. As his doctoral dissertation, he edited and annotated the Complete works of the 19th century American poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1965.
In 1969, his first novel, House Made of Dawn was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Momaday moved to the University of California at Berkeley as Professor of English and Comparative Literature. He designed a graduate program of Indian Studies and taught a popular course in American Indian literature and mythology. His long study of the Kiowa oral tradition bore fruit that year in The Way to Rainy Mountain , a collection of Kiowa tales illustrated by his father Al Momaday. That same year, he was initiated into the Gourd Dance Society, the ancient fraternal organization of the Kiowas.
His 1971 essay "The American Land Ethic" drew public attention to the tradition of respect for nature practiced by the native peoples and its significance to modern American society in an era of environmental degradation. Angle of Geese and Other Poems was published in 1974, a memoir, The Names , in 1976. A second volume of poems, The Gourd Dancer (1976) was partly written while he was lecturing in Moscow in 1974. At the same time, he took up drawing and painting seriously for the first time in his life. Since then his work has been exhibited throughout the United States. His newer books are frequently illustrated with his own paintings and etchings.
Professor Momaday left Berkeley for Stanford in 1973. Since 1982, he has lived in Tucson and taught at the University of Arizona, giving occasional lectures at other schools including Princeton and Columbia. His more recent books include: The Ancient Child (1989), In the Presence of the Sun (1991), Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story (1993), and The Native Americans: Indian Country (1993). He is also the author of a play, The Indolent Boys, and was featured in the award-winning documentary film Remembered Earth: New Mexico's High Desert. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded N. Scott Momaday the National Medal of Arts, "for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition."