It is no mistake that N. Scott Momaday has been called a “Living Legend.” The only Native American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Literature has many additional honors, awards and degrees; you can read about them on our website’s Bio page and see a list of his published books.
For this blog post, I want to refer to his most recent publication, an article for Smithsonian Magazine, ”The Year That the Stars Fell” (Jan. 2015 Vol. 45 No. 9). First of all, we love this illustration for SMs “Contributors” page by artist Gaby D’Alessandro. The color palette suggests a fellow from Panama or Cuba but the vibrancy is all Momaday.
The sidebar comment refers to another of Momaday’s honors, a 2007 National Medal of Arts "for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition." It is from this expertise that he relates the story of the day he and his father, the artist Al Momaday, found a pictographic calendar among the belongings of their old family friend, Poolaw, the Elder who had given Scott his Kiowa name as an infant. The calendar art recorded “a valid idea of history, reduced to an essential concept, composed in the language of imagery,” says Momaday.
The article refers to a 1998 discovery of another calendar piece, the “Rosebud Winter Count,” found in a trunk in California and now one of the treasures in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Momaday imagines the unidentified artist at work, asking the deep questions that he’ll answer in pictures on the muslin cloth. He calls the winter counts and their relation to language a crucial link between the written and oral traditions and compares their importance to the Rosetta Stone, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the walls of Lascaux. According to Momaday, it is “a story to be told, of Man’s quest to know himself, composed in the language of imagery.”
Director Jill Momaday Gray has expressed her intention to honor this unfolding story in another version of “the language of imagery,” that of documentary film in the upcoming Return to Rainy Mountain.