Pulitzer Prize-winning Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday continued a lifelong interest in storytelling and oral tradition Friday with a debut reading of his centennial poem.
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins introduced the Oklahoma native at a private reception in the Chase Tower downtown, citing his "rare and wonderful gift" with words. The poem, divided into three sections, paints a verbal picture of land, settlement and statehood, each part ending with the word "Oklahoma."
Reading, Momaday created a primordial sense of place in the work, "red earth in the wake of creation," "wind-borne and elemental," before settlement brought "red men" from four directions. Later, coming on like "driving rain" were homesteaders in wagons, mule drivers, in this, "an American story, a morality play."
With statehood, arrived the "machinery of settlement" and "stitching of railroads," he read, the "coalescence of hope and passage of sacrifice."
The sweeping, rolling lines, with words bumping against each other like the people he described crowding the plains, garnered the Oklahoma Centennial Poet Laureate a standing ovation.
Momaday also highlighted his interest in preserving oral tradition through establishing an archive and camp facility in Rainy Mountain, "the heart of Oklahoma's Indian country," according to a release. An official centennial project, the facility when built will house community records, including oral recordings.
"Story is something that I've been interested in all my life," Momaday said, noting his father told stories since Momaday first understood language.
In full regalia, Oklahoma Fancy Dancers also performed at the event, illustrating five dance styles from different regions. In a memorable centennial-year moment, they drew audience members, some in suits and ties, to participate in a circle dance with them. "Emily Jerman