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Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Leslie Marmon Silko | Biography


Early Life

Leslie Marmon Silko was born on March 5, 1948, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Like Ceremony's protagonist, Tayo, Silko is of mixed heritage: in her case, Laguna, white, and Mexican. Raised in part by her full-blood Laguna grandmother, who educated Silko on her culture's stories, Silko has said, "I am of mixed-breed ancestry, but what I know is Laguna." She attended elementary school on the reservation before transferring to Catholic school in fifth grade. She excelled academically, despite being forbidden to speak her native language at school. She graduated high school with honors and attended the University of New Mexico, where she studied English and creative writing. She had originally planned to attend law school, but she changed her mind after deciding that writing, sharing stories, and appealing to readers' emotions were more effective ways to promote social change and justice.

Writing Career

Silko's upbringing on the reservation deeply affected her work, which focuses on the theme of culture clash (particularly how white culture threatens Native American cultures) and the importance of Native Americans remaining connected to the stories of their past. Considered one of the most important Native American writers of her generation, Silko's work, particularly her first novel, Ceremony (1977), was at the forefront of the 1970s' Native American renaissance.

Silko's work is best known for its blend of traditional Laguna stories with the struggles of modern Native Americans to thrive in white-dominated society. In addition to her novels such as Storyteller (1981) and Almanac of the Dead (1991), she has published collections of poetry, short stories, and essays about contemporary Native American life, as well as a memoir, The Turquoise Ledge (2010). She has received major awards such as a MacArthur fellowship (which allowed her to quit teaching and focus on writing full time), a Pushcart Prize for poetry, and a Living Cultural Treasure Award from the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities.

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