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Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Ceremony | Preface | Summary



In the Preface, Leslie Marmon Silko describes her writing process during the creation of Ceremony. Depressed and homesick in Alaska, Silko's intended comedy about an alcoholic veteran named Harley and his drunken escapades transformed once she began writing secondary character Tayo. Woven through Tayo's tale were poems and stories from Silko's Laguna childhood, which she missed terribly. She describes gloomy Ketchikan and the people who lived there, including a Japanese American family who had been interned at a concentration camp during the war. She also recollects the veterans from her Laguna reservation who, in her childhood, had survived the same Bataan Death March as Tayo in the novel. By piecing together these seemingly unrelated snapshots, Silko created her own ceremony, fighting through dark depression to reconnect with the Laguna culture she had left behind.


Leslie Marmon Silko's Preface gives readers insight into her writing process as well as her mental state when composing Ceremony. She had no intention of writing a novel, and even when the manuscript was finished she had no idea whether it would be publishable, but pressed forward anyway, enjoying the "feeling of comfort" she found revisiting childhood stories. "The novel was my escape," she writes, recalling the deep depression and anxiety she felt develop as she lived in a relatively sunless place: "I spent all of [the summer] fighting off the terrible lethargy of a depression caused ... by the absence of sunlight." Later, when the depression subsided, Silko battled debilitating migraines, which left her "in a darkened bedroom for eight hours at a time while the vertigo spun the bed." Her headaches subsided just as Tayo's did. These parallels show how deeply connected Silko is to Tayo. While Silko is not a veteran, she clearly understands Tayo's longing for community, the connection between emotional and physical health, and the "understanding of the healing ceremony's relationship to storytelling."

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