Today is Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko's birthday.
Leslie Marmon Silko, born in 1948 and raised in the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, proudly proclaims her mixed Native American, Mexican, and White heritage. As a writer, Silko draws on the stories she heard from her great-grandmother at Laguna. The oral tradition of storytelling, she insists, is alive and well for anyone who takes the time to listen to others. Silko's most widely taught novel, Ceremony, deals with a young World War II veteran's return to his Indian reservation.
To celebrate Silko's birthday, your students can revive elements of the oral tradition.
Have students write a brief anecdote about something funny that happened to them recently. Have students limit their writing to no more than a paragraph. Then ask students to read what they have written several times to themselves. Next, in pairs, have students tell each other their stories without looking at what they wrote. Each pair should then join with another pair and tell each other their stories, again without looking at what they wrote. Stop the class at this point and ask students to look back at what they have written to see if their stories have changed in the telling. Why do these changes happen? Finally, have students move into a larger group and retell someone else's story as well as they can. Before wrapping up, students should discuss some of the elements of oral storytelling: what makes a good story? What changes in the retelling and why?
Have students interview older family members to learn about family stories that may have been passed down through generations. Students may wish to share these stories in class or write them down and illustrate them.
This resource from American Passages offers a brief biography of Silko, as well as teaching tips and questions for her novel Ceremony.
This is a collection of notes by a Georgetown professor on the major themes and complex style of Silko's work.
The Smithsonian Institution offers this collection of Native American-related resources. There are links to Smithsonian resources, online exhibitions, and recommended reading lists.
This PBS site provides a collection of resources on Native American storytelling.