Newly found historic lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer N. Scott Momaday

N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
N. Scott Momaday is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
Courtesy of Jill Momaday

The local American Indian media organization Migizi Communications recently rediscovered a treasure trove of Native American audio recordings and found a 1977 lecture by poet, novelist and essayist N. Scott Momaday. He won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1969 for his book, "House Made of Dawn."

Momaday is the author of more than a dozen books, and his most recent was published earlier this year, titled "The Death of Sitting Bear."

Momaday was the guest speaker for an American Indian Studies course at the University of Minnesota back in January 1977. He titled his talk, "In Wonder and Delight: The Character of American Indian Oral Tradition."

Momaday told the students he believes language is powerful and sacred. And he shared some of his experiences as a writer.

“Man has always tried to represent, to recreate, the world in words,” he said. “One of our most valuable metaphors for poetry is that of the Renaissance man holding up the mirror of language to the race of nature.”

“Language is intrinsically powerful. Language is powerful in itself. Language is sacred.”

In his lecture, Momaday said, “storytelling lies at the very center of Indian oral tradition. Let me tell you a story.” He told several during this lecture, where he explored “the magic of words” and “the complexity of language.”

“Our best existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine who, and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.”

President George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 2007. Momaday is now 86 years old.

Migizi Communications, with the support of the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, has begun to archive and digitize these recordings for posterity. Migizi made it available to MPR News for broadcast and archiving here. Sadly, many of the archived materials at Migizi were lost in the fires and rioting last week in Minneapolis.

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