If William Shakespeare had been born in Lawton, Oklahoma, everyone would know it, even if he had lived here only a short time. His work is so remarkable that it divides all English literature. In fact, as the central figure in the English Renaissance, Shakespeare divides British and Western history in many ways. Such a writer was born in Lawton, Oklahoma 85 years ago on February 27th: N. Scott Momaday.
Dr. Momaday is known as the “Father of the Native American Renaissance,” which many scholars believe started with his 1968 novel, House Made of Dawn, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. His follow-up work, The Way to Rainy Mountain, captures the Kiowa relationship to the landmark a few miles Northwest of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Here is how he describes this place so special to him:
A single knoll rises out of the plain of Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornadic winds arise in the spring, and in summer, the prairie is an anvil's edge.... At a distance in July or August the steaming foliage seems almost to writhe in fire.... All things in the plain are isolate; there is no confusion of objects in the eye, but one hill or one tree or one man. To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.
I remember reading these and other excerpts of The Way to Rainy Mountain right before visiting the Wichita Mountains when I was in college. Ever since, it is one of my favorite places on earth, and I credit Dr. Momaday. He brought something alive in me about the land, and it never pulses so hard as when I am walking that anvil’s edge.
As an English major, I understand the special place he holds in American Literature. What I cannot entirely grasp, however, is the special place he holds in Native American culture. When I equate him to Shakespeare, I don’t do it lightly. Shakespeare ushered in a renaissance for one nation, but Momaday seems to have sparked a Native American Renaissance for many nations.
For these reasons, I am excited to attend a panel discussion on Momaday’s work, next Tuesday at Tomlinson Middle School from 6:00 to 7:30 in the TMS library to learn more about N. Scott Momaday. Pam Fodder and the LPS Indian Education Department – in cooperation with members of the Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche Nations – will host a panel discussion of Dr. Momaday’s work. We will be introduced to his work and hear panelists’ thoughts about his legacy. Dr. Momaday will not be there, of course, but I suspect we will all walk away with more of his perspective about this land:
One day late in the afternoon, I walked about among the headstones at Rainy Mountain Cemetery. The shadows were very long; there was a deep blush on the sky, and the hard red earth seemed to glow with the setting sun. For a few moments, at that particular time of the day, there is a deep silence. Nothing moves, and it does not occur to you to make any sound. Something is going on there in the shadows. Everything has slowed to a stop in order that the sun might take leave of the land. And then there is the sudden, piercing call of a bobwhite. The whole world is startled by it. (Excerpt from The Way to Rainy Mountain)
For eighty-five years, much has been going on in Rainy Mountain’s shadows. On Tuesday evening, may Lawton be startled anew by Momaday’s gift. In 300 years, I have no doubt, his work will stand beside Shakespeare’s; it already does for many. Please join us Tuesday at Tomlinson as we celebrate this amazing treasure.