American Literature Leslie Marmon Silko
Deborah L. Madsen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0174


Leslie Marmon Silko was born 5 March 1948 in Albuquerque, of Laguna, Mexican, and white ancestry, and raised on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation where she went to school until transferring to a Catholic high school in Albuquerque and later studying at the University of New Mexico. From her earliest short stories Silko emphasizes the Laguna practice of adapting western influences to core Keresan traditional cultural practices and the centrality of Laguna to her life and all aspects of her work. Silko is among the most canonized, most taught, and most written about of Native American authors while also one of the most complex. She creates in, and crosses, multiple literary genres including poetry (Laguna Woman, 1974; Voices Under One Sky, 1994), short fiction (Storyteller, 1981; Ocean Story, 2011), novels (Ceremony, 1977; Almanac of the Dead, 1991; Gardens in the Dunes, 1999), and nonfiction prose (Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, 1985; The Turquoise Ledge, 2010)—and using intermedial forms of expression, most notably photography (Rain, with Lee Marmon, 1996; Sacred Water, 1993), video (Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems, 1978; Estoy-eh-muut and the Kunideeyahs, 1979), drawing, and painting. Because Silko habitually transgresses aesthetic boundaries, adapting non-Indigenous creative forms (like the novel) to the needs of Indigenous expression, one of the primary lines of scholarly inquiry is the issue of categorization: Is her work Native American, ethnic American, Southwestern American, simply “American” or indeed “world” literature? Are the Western critical terms “modernist,” “postmodernist,” “postcolonial,” or “feminist” relevant? These questions reflect the most frequently discussed aspects of her work—the role of the oral tradition in her style of storytelling, her use of mythological and ceremonial contexts, her exploration of gender and sexuality, the tension among cultural identities and world views, and her engagement with ecology and environmentalism—issues that are linked, especially in her later work, in a sustained critique of US technomilitary-industrial capitalism that violently transforms all of creation into market commodities, ideologically motivated by imperialism and enacted through exploitative processes of colonization. Though complex and often disturbing, Silko’s writing is frequently anthologized, reaching a wide and diverse audience. The scope of interest in her work is reflected in the quantity and diversity of scholarship that continues to appear, and multiple prestigious awards signal the outstanding quality of this most significant of Native American writers.


Most of the biographical essays on Silko offer some bibliographical resources. There is no single book-length bibliography, though the scope of DiNome 1997 comes close. Thorson 1999 complements DiNome by adding evaluation to the citations. Readers new to Silko’s work will find brief introductions to Silko’s corpus, like Encyclopædia Britannica 2016 and Literature Online Biography 2011 helpful. The broader contexts of Silko’s writing are described by Nelson 2005, with particular emphasis on Silko’s family history and influences; by Clements and Roemer 1997, which attends to her style; and by Tillett 2001, which provides the cultural and political dimensions of Silko’s life and work.

  • Clements, William M., and Kenneth M. Roemer. “Leslie Marmon Silko.” In Native American Writers of the United States. Edited by Kenneth M. Roemer, 276–290. Dictionary of Literary Biography 175. Detroit: Gale, 1997.

    A valuable overview of Silko’s work up to Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit. Of particular value is the detailed analysis of a number of Silko’s poems, highlighting the characteristics of her formal poetic style. Each of Silko’s works is addressed in some detail to elucidate the developing continuities that characterize her expanding oeuvre. Includes a useful, if unavoidably dated, selective bibliography.

  • DiNome, William. “Laguna Woman: An Annotated Leslie Silko Bibliography.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 21.1 (1997): 207–280.

    DOI: 10.17953/aicr.21.1.p810153224g10w27

    This excellent resource provides an expansive narrative bio-bibliography up to the publication of Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, followed by a detailed annotated bibliography that is arranged under the headings: “Works by LMS,” “Interviews,” “Selected Reviews,” and “Criticism.” A major contribution to scholarship on Silko and an indispensable reference resource.

  • Leslie Marmon Silko.” Encyclopædia Britannica (13 May 2016).

    A useful but very short introduction to Silko’s life and writing. The value of this article is the inclusion of all of Silko’s major published works to date, but it does not offer a bibliography. A first stop for first-time readers of Silko.

  • Nelson, Robert M. “Leslie Marmon Silko: Storyteller.” In The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature. Edited by Joy Porter and Kenneth M. Roemer, 245–256. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521822831.014

    A comprehensive overview of Silko’s life and family connections that encompasses a detailed account of Ceremony and discussion of subsequent works (Storyteller, Almanac of the Dead, Sacred Water, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, and Gardens in the Dunes) as well as Silko’s work in the media of photography and video. The bibliography is limited to book-length publications before 2004.

  • “Silko, Leslie, 1948–.” Literature Online Biography. ProQuest LLC, 2011.

    A very full biographical account of Silko’s work, which provides contextual details concerning the conditions of writing and reception for each of her major works. An indicative narrative bibliography concludes the biographical essay.

  • Thorson, Connie Capers. “Leslie Marmon Silko and Her Work: A Bibliographical Essay.” In Leslie Marmon Silko: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by Louise K. Barnett and James L. Thorson, 273–283. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

    Thorson provides an evaluative summary of key scholarly works including interviews and encyclopedic entries as well as an account of major scholarly engagements with Ceremony and Storyteller specifically and the recurring themes in Silko’s writing. She follows the narrative bibliography with a very comprehensive primary bibliography of Silko’s work in all genres, up to Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996) and an extensive selective bibliography of secondary sources.

  • Tillett, Rebecca. “Leslie Marmon Silko.” The Literary Encyclopedia. 2001.

    An outstanding account of Silko’s life, the politico-historical contexts and the cultural environments that inform her writing. This article forms a perfect complement to the Literature Online biography, providing depth and detail, but limited to the period before 2001 and so terminates with Gardens in the Dunes (1999).

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