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First Novel by a Native American Writer to Win a Pulitzer Prize House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

Celebrating the Firsts: First Novel by a Native American Writer to Win a Pulitzer Prize

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This year, we are celebrating Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day with a blog series called Celebrating the Firsts: Shining a Light on Trailblazing Artwork by Native Artists. In this four-part series, we are recognizing five indigenous creators who have participated in the copyright system and enriched our culture. Join us on a journey of exploring the following dynamic works and the Native American authors behind them: Wynema: A Child of the Forest by S. Alice Callahan (1891), I See Red: Target by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (1992), Tribal Force by Jon Proudstar (writer) and Ryan Huna Smith (artist) (1996), and House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (1968).

This blog post is the fourth and final one in the series (read part one, part two, and part three), and focuses on House Made of Dawn, a novel by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa). House Made of Dawn was published in 1968 and is the first novel by a Native American author to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Momaday is a poet, playwright, painter, photographer, storyteller, and professor of English. He was born in Oklahoma in 1934 and spent time on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico when he was growing up. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and a master’s degree and doctorate in English literature from Stanford University. In 2003, UNESCO named Momaday an Artist for Peace, and in 2007, he was named Oklahoma’s Centennial State Poet Laureate and received the National Medal of Arts. He has received many other national and international honors and awards, such as the Premio Letterario Internationale “Mondello,” Italy’s highest literary award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize. Momaday was also a founding Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Momaday shakes hands with former President George W. Bush at NMA ceremony
Photo by Michael Stewart for the National Endowment for the Arts

House Made of Dawn was Momaday’s first novel, and it is possibly his best-known work. The novel tells the story of a young man returning home from the U.S. Army to his Kiowa pueblo and finding himself caught between different worlds and cultures. A member of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Jury described the novel’s “eloquence and intensity of feeling, its freshness of vision and subject, and its immediacy of theme” and the jury recommended it as recognition of “the arrival on the American literary scene of a matured, sophisticated literary artist from the original Americans.” Other Native American authors were active before House Made of Dawn was published, but this novel is often considered an inflection point in modern Native American literature and the beginning of what some called the “Native American Renaissance.” Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo has said of Momaday, “[he] was the one we all looked up to . . . His works were transcendent.”

House Made of Dawn is a literary work protected by copyright, a form of intellectual property provided for in the U.S. Constitution to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Read more about the rights copyright affords to writers and find curated resources to help them get started with a copyright registration application on our website.

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month this year, we hope this series celebrating “firsts” will broaden our collective understanding of what the copyright system encompasses and how to participate in it. Earlier this year, the Copyright Office published its 2022–2026 Strategic Plan, which sets out the Office’s key strategic goals, first among them copyright for all. This means working to make the copyright system as understandable and accessible to as many members of the public as possible, including individuals and small entities as well as historically underserved communities. We are committed to continuing this work and are excited to see how new Native American artists continue to contribute to copyright in the years to come.

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