N. Scott Momaday,
overestimate the importance of bear to Native culture and to cultures everywhere. Pasa: Last year, you brought several Siberian indigenous writers to Santa Fe. How did that come about? Momaday: I have a foundation which is called the Buffalo Trust. Its main concern is to work with indigenous peoples around the world and help them preserve their way of life. I was a teacher in Moscow back in the 1970s, and I so enjoyed that experience. Through that, I got very interested in the indigenous people of Siberia and Russia. I went there and worked with indigenous tribes in Western Siberia. I met some of their writers. When the delegation from Siberia came, I invited them. We had a wonderful meeting here. I went back and visited them there. That’s happened about four or five times. Last year they came and visited IAIA, where I was teaching a course at the time. When I first encountered them, they were writing underground pieces, not published very easily. Now they have developed a real literature which is well published. Recently, there has been an anthology of Siberian writing published here in the states. That seems to be growing to my approval and excitement. Pasa: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Momaday: I wanted to be a writer very early. My mother was always telling me stories and reading things to me. I developed a real interest in literature when I was fairly young. I started to think of myself as a writer even before I was entitled to do that. When I got to college, I started to enter writing competitions. I published my first poem just after graduating from UNM. I thought, I’m a professional writer. I kept up after all these years and I have become a writer, lo and behold. Pasa: You are also a painter and have included illustrations in your books. How did that come about? Momaday: I was in Russia for the first time in 1974. It was very much behind the Iron Curtain at the time and a fascinating place to be for an American. Something about the experience caused me to start making sketches and drawing and so on. I was about 40 years old when I really became a graphic artist. It also a lot had to do with the fact that I watched my father paint when I was growing up. I was always around that activity, though I didn’t take part in it myself. I feel by osmosis I learned a great deal from him. He liked to invite other artists to come and paint with him. Those occasions turned out to be great fun. From a distance, I participated in that. I think eventually that came to the surface in my creativity.
Momaday illustration from In the Bear’s House