On April 12, The Paris Review announced N. Scott Momaday as the recipient of the 2021 Hadada Award, presented each year to a “distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” Over the past few months, the Daily has published a series of short essays devoted to his work. Today, in the final piece of the series, Terry Tempest Williams writes about her decades-long friendship with Momaday, the power of his work, and what can be done to atone for ecological destruction.
The events of one’s life take place, take place. How often have I used this expression, and how often have I stopped to think about what it means? Events do indeed take place, they have meaning in relation to things around them.
—N. Scott Momaday, The Names
We were gathered at the Teton Theater in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a historic cinema built in 1942, a testament to taxidermy where faux ledges of local mammals appeared on the north and south walls. A grizzly bear, black bear, coyote, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and mountain lion perched above rows of red velvet seats and, on a typical evening, watched the audience as the audience watched the movies. But on this night in 1977, several hundred of us were waiting in our seats not to see a film but to hear the great N. Scott Momaday read from his book The Way to Rainy Mountain, which had just been published in paperback.
The writer, whose Kiowa name is Tsoai-talee, or “Rock Tree Boy,” walked confidently onto the humble stage in a three-piece suit. He was large in stature and reputation: eight years earlier, his debut novel, House Made of Dawn, had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. “Good evening,” he said, in a strong, booming voice, deep with resonance.
The audience gasped.
“You were expecting feathers?” he replied. Read More