Category Archives: Native American

N. Scott Momaday: Native American Arts Champion

House made of dawn cover no picScott Momaday is credited with leading the way for a breakthrough in Native American literature when his novel, House Made of Dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Scott, who had a high level academic career, was also a poet and playwright. His participation in the second year of the Playwrights’ Project was then considered a literary coup. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Scott over a period of a week where I sat as an observer to the dramatists’ creative process. Little could I have anticipated that I would later hold Scott Momaday as a three-hour conversational captive in my car.

Edith Crutcher with Monty at the Playwrights Project

Edith Crutcher with Monty at the Playwrights Project

I was introduced to N. Scott Momaday in 2000 by Edith Colvard Crutcher, a distinguished North Carolina Cherokee elder who had a significant role in preserving American Indian culture as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Edie had read and admired the first three novels in my Booker Series that deal with the metaphysics and social issues of contemporary American Indians, and she was very generous in inviting me to participate in the first sessions of The Playwrights’ Project.

Healing SpringAlthough I was the 1986 founding president of the Blowing Rock Stage Company, an award-winning Equity professional summer stock theatre that produced five shows each season, I had no playwright credits to become a writer or actor at the Playwrights’ Project. That first session, March 14-21, 1999, my wife Pat and I drove from Boone, NC beyond West Jefferson to the remote rural location of Healing Spring where the invited writers and actors worked in a country school being restored as a theatrical center. Pat and I brought small gifts and acted as an unofficial welcoming committee.  We also sat in on the sessions where individual playwrights presented the most recent rewrites of a scene, and actors performed dramatic table readings.  Then Artistic Director, M.Z. Ribalow, a playwright himself, led a critical discussion of what had just been presented.

I admit to a persistent flaw in my manners. Despite my lack of rank or authority, I cannot keep quiet when I feel that an obvious point needs to be articulated. I have thus offered my unsolicited opinions to First Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains, and even a Major when I was in the Army, and to Generals, Admirals, and Ambassadors when I was a lowly staff civilian. My faux pas at the Playwrights’ Project was to offer comments from my sidewall guest observation chair to the playwrights and actors at the conference table.  Meir Ribalow justifiably did not appreciate my remarks made from the peanut gallery, and thereafter I perceived his scowl whenever I approached. Nevertheless, I admired his talent and dedication to the creative process that lasted until his untimely death.

Momaday receiving the National Medal of Arts

Momaday receiving the National Medal of Arts

In the first ten years of operations, the Playwrights’ Project, also recognized as New River Dramatists, fostered 345 plays under the direction of Founder and Executive Director Mark Woods. In 2007, Scott Momaday received our country’s highest cultural award, the National Medal of Arts. Other playwrights in the program won a National Book Award and the August Wilson Prize. Perhaps half of the plays workshopped at Healing Spring saw production in New York City and elsewhere.

When Pat and I met Scott Momaday, he was a giant of a man at age 66.

Monty and Pat with Scott Momaday at the Playwrights Project in Ashe County

Monty and Pat with Scott Momaday at the Playwrights Project in Ashe County

Wearing a high crowned western hat, he seemed a head taller that I was. In the sessions where actors dramatized scenes from his play-in-progress, he responded to all suggestions generously, and he was obviously one of the group’s favorite participants. At breaks and at the mid-day meal catered by country ladies from their nearby home kitchens, Scott was always available for conversations. He also cooperated with anyone, like us, who wanted to be photographed with him.

In a two-week playwrights workshop Pat and I would commute and maybe spend three to four days on site. We were fortunately there when Scott needed transportation to the Charlotte airport.  Although it would be at least a three-hour detour for us, we readily volunteered. Scott carried a two-inch stack of airline tickets that he shuffled to find the flight to his next appearance on a long itinerary. He noted that he did not enjoy the travel, and that he would be happy when he could return to his mountain home in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

Momaday pulitzer novelist banner

Pat drove our Dodge Caravan while Scott sat in the rear seat catercorner from me in the front passenger seat. As a former journalist, I had to avoid the temptation to interview the Pulitzer Prize author on Native American subjects that interested me, but then, too, I was not going to stay silent and miss the opportunity to engage him. I was then working on a long novel, Eagle Feathers In Glass, that was inspired by Lloyd Kiva New, a mutual friend of ours. Maybe that conversation about the Institute of American Indian Arts that had been founded by Lloyd occupied an hour or so. At some point on the journey to the airport, Scott and I found our most common ground: our passion for cooking soups. He described his Southwestern ingredient soups, and I told him my recipe and methods for creating an authentic Louisiana Cajun Chicken-Sausage-Okra Gumbo.  Scott then suggested that the most productive use of our next-time meeting would be in a kitchen for a soup and gumbo cook-off. Perhaps he hoped that I might talk less while preparing a gumbo.

When we left Scott at the airport terminal, Pat admonished me for talking non-stop. “Maybe Scott would have enjoyed a nap,” she chided. “I already apologized to him,” I said. “He can nap on the flight.” “Mark Woods will probably never ask us to take anybody to the airport again,” Pat added.

“I can’t help myself,” I confessed. “I would have done the same on a train ride with Mark Twain. If you don’t engage great men and women when you get the opportunity, you will regret that silence for the rest of your life.”

Since I was only 59 years old when I met Scott Momaday, I trust that he will forgive my behavior as a youthful excess of enthusiasm.

indians and mountains

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Embracing Cultural Diversity

PSALM MAKER COVER      People who consider themselves so different from their named enemies should plant a crop and work a field together.  During the labor, they would talk about their children and find the common ground of parenting.  At the harvest, they would hold cooperation in their hands as they offer up with pride a melon or squash.  The fruits of labor should not be weapons that would put the blood of children in fields where water should run.  Has the society of human beings become too complex to realize such simplicity? ~  Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones

In an age where conflict resolution is a lost art, and religions vie for dominance, what alterations in human psyche are possible toward a goal of peace and understanding?

My tool for creating multicultural awareness is the novel.  I believe that the novel isSmoky table superior to non-fiction and journalism in altering behavioral consciousness.  Of course, to effect changes of heart and mind, the author must first have readers, or at least, a body of citizens who can read.  When you hear the phrase “reading is fundamental,” the deep importance of books is implied.

Literature is about the human heart.  Literature is about human spirituality as much as it is about patterns in human behavior.  I drank coffee with William Faulkner when we were both at the University of Virginia in the early 1960s; and although he was a consummate craftsman in the structuring of character and circumstance, when pushed by intellectual graduate students to define his literature, he replied that he wrote about the human heart.

What do I write about?  I write about the human heart, the heart being a metaphor for the sacred center of our beingness, or the denial of our connection to each other.  Crime germinates from this denial.  War germinates from this denial.  When we believe ourselves separate from each other, our behaviors become prejudiced, and our society fragments into conflict.

Medicine wheelYou cannot have a sustainable environment without a sustainable people to inhabit it.  We must have sustainable human cultures that are the lifeblood of evolutionary biodiversity.  We need the multicultural approaches to Reality through language, myths, and traditions to insure the rich continuation of humanity.  We need to honor and respect each other in our differences—not just for the purpose of social harmony, but also for the greater purpose of achieving enlightenment as spiritually aware creations.  We undermine the destiny of humanity when we yield to conflict and prejudice.  Humanity is a DNA-related family.   What can create this behavioral awareness?

We look at the current worldwide conflicts of culture and religion, and we see a continuation of the basic error of humanity.  And the macrocosm—the conflicts between nations—only mirrors the microcosm of the conflicts within our local communities and within our own minds as we deal with individual relationships:  the husband with the wife, the parent with the child, the employer with the employee, the neighbor with the neighbor, the seller with the buyer.

Monty at a book signing in Chicago

Monty at a book signing in Chicago

In the five novels of the Booker Series, I set out to find the answer to an important question:  Can a person conditioned in a society fermented in conflict change, and by altered awareness, become a righteous behaving human being?  Is it possible to cast off all the negative conditioning of race and class and allow behavior to arise from that metaphorical place of the heart?  Is it possible to remake ourselves as human beings?

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book cover

I started out with a spiritually desperate middle-aged man going literally naked into the night.  He had every material advantage; and yet he felt so empty of meaning and purpose in his life that he walked out of his affluent home to offer himself up, to surrender to the discovery of his true nature.

No one culture or religion has yet put Reality in a box, or in a book.  Humanity is an expression of life.  Its driving force is continuation.  Its diversity is the natural seeking of that continuation.  Through language, and songs, and dance, and craft elevated to art, we interpret Reality, the Great What Is.  We seek to understand it, to touch it with our minds.  Sometimes, we culturally dare to label these observations, these beliefs as Truths.  But what has proven to be Absolute?  Even in the highest levels of our science, history has yielded no absolutes.  What is the big picture?  Where does the Reality of the macrocosm of the wide universe meet the microcosm of the subatomic world?  And even if science gives us a Unified Field Theory, how will that theory of Truth and Absolutes help me in my relationship with my wife, my daughters, my colleagues, my neighbors?  How will an idea of Reality help me in the crucible of relationship?

Pueblo Indians share their culture in New Mexico

Pueblo Indians share their culture in New Mexico

My point is—no one grand idea, or any single collection of ideas, leads us to a truth that stimulates righteous behavior.  Nevertheless, there are elements in every expression of culture that point the way to successful relationships.  These are the elements that we want to embrace in each other.  These are the elements that honor family values and stress the strengths of cooperation and consideration.  And if you achieve cooperation and consideration, will compassion be far behind?  And in compassion, in unselfishness, there is even the possibility of love.

The great Teachers of life and Reality have told us to love one another; to start from love, the metaphorical heart, and then fulfillment and happiness will follow.  But in the process of communal living, love has become a distant, theoretical absolute, a practical impossibility.  Love thy neighbor?  You mean love that jerk!?

Monty waits for a chance encounter on the plaza in Taos, New Mexico

Monty waits for a chance encounter on the plaza in Taos, New Mexico

If we cannot start from altruistic, unselfish love in all relationships, then let’s turn the equation around.  Let’s make love-thy-neighbor the result, and not the guilt-laden cause in the social equation.  What if we start out on the left-hand side of the equals sign with the numeral for acceptance?  Suppose I accept you for who you are and make an effort to understand where you are coming from in your cultural attitudes.  Suppose I walk a half-mile in your shoes.  Then suppose I add the numeral for cooperation.  Suppose I see your needs for water rights as reasonable and environmentally correct.  Then suppose I work with you, side by side, on a project to improve our collective community.  Suppose I sweat with you, laugh with you, and even cry with you.

And now my equation needs another addition.  Now I must add consideration and multiply it by Lost in LV cover no nameconcern.  Now, I honor your sacred places and remove the epithets of marginalization from my patterns of speech.  In my attitudes and behaviors, I show you respect.  I share my ethnic foods with you, my songs, my legends, my family stories.  I tell you that the futures of our grandchildren are co-mingled.  If your children cannot find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in this community, then neither can mine.

KokopelliYou are so marvelously different from me, but I love your differences.  Please don’t change.  Preserve your culture, your language, your unique perspective of Reality, because our society needs each point-of-view to survive.  We cannot afford to lose you.  We need you as part of our continuation as a humanity.  Fry bread, corn tortilla, rye, pumpernickel, and even white bread.  Everyone is important when you add it up, when you balance the equation of relationship and experience love as the answer.

New Mexico kivaIt is not necessary to begin with some abstract concept of love to achieve a positive community relationship.  Start with simple openness to learning about your neighbors.  Allow curiosity to enter.  Be available.  Understand that nothing gets better until you do.  No one learns until you do.  No one works until you do.  No one cooperates until you do.  No one shares, or laughs, or cries until you do.  And ultimately, no one loves until you do.  Those are the universal rules of relationship—out there on alien planets and right here wherever you live.

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Visionary Fiction: The Booker Series Restoration

 

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book coverLOST IN LAS VEGAS book coverSave the Good Seed coverDead Water Rites coverPSALM MAKER COVER

This blog is quite different from my others.  It’s the kind of blog that an author hopes he or she would never write, but like most changes that at first seem unwelcome, a new way of working has emerged.

My Booker Series novels are considered pioneer books in the Visionary Fiction genre, and I have both written and lectured about that new literature.

The Booker Series began with Naked Into The Night in 1997 when the character Booker walked naked out of his affluent suburban Virginia home to remake himself, journeying cross-country to live among the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest.  The series lasted for 16 years in the book marketplace before the publisher de-listed the books and reverted the rights back to me.

It happens.  A reversion of rights essentially removes the novels from being purchased as print copies or as e-books.  If action is not taken by the author, the de-listed books are in danger of disappearing.

With the help of friends in the book trade, my wife Pat has restored the e-book availability of the four Booker Series novels, and we are excited to announce that she has just added the formerly unpublished fifth book in the series, Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones.  All of the books are currently available on Amazon, with more e-book platforms to come.

Prior to the de-listing, I purchased a limited number of the trade paperback copies.  The cover price of these four novels was $51.80.  This limited four-book series can be purchased from me at a 50% discount, plus $10 for shipping within the continental USA, for a total cost of $35.80, and each book will have a personal inscription.  For purchase details (sets only), please contact me by e-mail here.

By taking back the rights to the books, we were also able to make all of the e-books available for an affordable $2.99 each.

Please accept our gratitude for your support of the Booker Series over the years.  We hope that keeping the books available will reach a new generation of readers who demand meaningful substance from their literature.  I consider Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones to be the most important book that I have ever written.

PSALM MAKER COVER  “Without the conditioned past of the mind, the being is able to focus completely on the present, to experience everything as fresh, new, and amazing.  In relationship, the non-judgmental presents no barriers.  It is a quality that others can perceive.  It opens the door to friendship, trust, and affection.  It allows for happiness in every circumstance.”  —Booker Jones

 

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book coverMonty Joynes is a genuine find by Hampton Roads.  His novel portrays not only a culture, an environment, a political reality, but also a psychological drama that includes gripping scenes like one in which the protagonist makes peace in a bar fight, and another where he becomes a spiritual guide to a friend dying of cancer.  Joynes has written the tale of a man who undergoes a radical inner transformation, walks away from his life as a successful real estate broker, husband, and father, and manifests in his new life as a homeless drifter, the outer life that reflects his inner transformation.  In lucid prose, Joynes narrates as compelling an example of a person choosing essence life and accepting the consequences as you are likely to find in modern fiction.”   —The Independent Press Book Review

LOST IN LAS VEGAS book cover“Lost in Las Vegas continues the story of Naked Into the Night.  After a profound, likely authentic, visionary kiva ritual, the Anglo’s adopted Pueblo tribe elders select him to rescue a young Indian man who is a prodigy of traditional dancing, and a potential successor to leadership, from the lifestyle of a performer in a Las Vegas resort hotel.  The contrast, between the consciousness that the Pueblo traditions propagate and the brilliant distractions of Vegas life, could hardly be more dramatic.  It makes for high drama, genuine spiritual struggle with illusion of various kinds, and excellent reading.”    — The Independent Press Book Review

 

Save the Good Seed cover “We walk with respect around this man, even if he’s white,” says one Pueblo man to another in SAVE THE GOOD SEED by Monty Joynes.  The white man they speak of is Booker Washington Jones, once Winn Conover a.k.a. Anglo Who Became Chief Old Woman’s Son, recently relocated to living in New Mexico among Pueblo compatriots.  In meeting August (“Ray”) Rey, a “Lost Bird” dissociated from his Pueblo people when he was “adopted” into white society 44 years before, readers are brought close to both sides of the alienation issue.  Facts of our government’s anti-Native American history flesh out their story.

 SAVE THE GOOD SEED is also about the touching parallel development of two middle-aged men finally finding themselves at home in a culture completely different from the one in which they were raised.  The warmth of this moving tale offers us the opportunity to actually share in the exquisite joy and solidarity of the Pueblo people coming together to live out their mission:  “In every moment, person or object, is an opportunity for connection.  Our role is to be aware of the potential and bring it into realization.”    —Heidi Rain, New England Spirit of Change Magazine

 

Dead Water Rites cover “What Monty Joynes has accomplished in DEAD WATER RITES, his fourth book in the remarkable Booker series, is the rare joining of a page-turning story line, lively with action and memorable characters, together with a sustained poetic meditation on the power and glory of water in the world.  The spiritual vision, the outward and inner lives of the invincible Southwestern Indians, are beautifully summoned up and celebrated.  DEAD WATER RITES is a powerful story and a pure pleasure to read.”   —George Garrett, Author and Critic

Rare depth and thoroughness…and an intelligent openness to the possibility of vision.”      —Henry Taylor, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet

 

 

 

 

 

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An Earth Day Question: Is It Possible to Walk in Beauty?

Earth Day was set as a time for human beings to reflect on their relationship to the natural world.  In my fifth Booker Series novel (as yet unpublished)  the character Booker summarizes what he has learned about the Earth Mother from Joseph, the Pueblo Indian Wisdom Keeper.  From Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones, herein is shared the lesson.

          If you take from Mother Earth, you need more than permission.  If you honor the relationship, you need to give back an offering.  There has got to be mutual consent and mutual exchange.  The act of honor must be central to awareness.  A potter takes clay and leaves something of value behind.  A painter takes pigments and leaves an offering.  A sculptor selects stone and removes it to his workplace, but he must leave behind something to fill the void.  He must balance one gift with another.  What will he put in place to honor the stone or the tree that he seeks to sculpt?  Will he sacrifice blue corn or his favorite shirt or blanket?  What will he give to be an honorable human being?

          How do we live with respect for all life so that all is safe and secure?  Who is responsible for the beauty of being?  Why must any people be made to beg for human rights?  When did respect fade from consciousness?  Power sacrifices respect to desire.  Respect is as gentle on the peoplescape as it is on the landscape.

         

          If everyone is aware, no one needs to shout.  Respect has a voice that speaks quietly.  When one culture, race, or religion dominates the Earth, respect for difference disappears, and within this loss is also the demise of humanity.

          What is indigenous should never be abrogated.  Do not remove dignity off the face of any people.  Dignity is the body language of respect.  A tree has dignity until it is chopped down.  A mountain has dignity until it is exploited.  A bear has dignity in its habitat.  A human being has dignity in the space of freedom.  Dignity is a right of natural law.  Where there is no dignity, nature itself has been violated.

         

Photo by Pat Joynes

     The man’s Indian brothers and sisters believe that the Earth is already in transition to another world, another great cycle of Earth habitation.  If the Earth is cleansed again, as the Hopi prophecies foretell, life will emerge into its fourth re-creation, the Fourth World.  For many people this bitter medicine is best taken with averted eyes and held breath.

         

          

         As Anglos, the writer’s people are perceived by the Indians as having no natural manners.  We have lost respect for our Earth Mother, and thus we cannot walk in beauty or in dignity.  All right behavior for Indians begins with honoring Creation in the metaphors of Father Sky and the Earth as Mother.

         

         There are Indian records that are sacred to Native Americans.  These documentary artifacts have been safeguarded and preserved for thousands of years, back to the dawn of consciousness.  These records say that human beings are star-born, that our origins are in a cluster of seven stars, the seven sisters. 

NASA Photo of the Pleiades

Eurocentric rational minds found this concept to be absurd, even contemptuous, so the Indians put their cosmic views back into the box.  In 21st century contemplation, the possibility does not seem so far fetched.  And yet, anthropologists and evolutionists continue to ignore the knowledge of indigenous, land-based peoples, pre-supposing their science to be superior to native superstitions.  The attitude allows them to walk in poverty among great treasures that they cannot see. 

        The Anglos ponder and speculate for their lifetimes on things that have been known to Indian medicine men for centuries. The Indians have waited patiently for the white men to ask serious questions, but Anglo pride has always prevented the humility required of wise men.  If a person comes in humility to an Indian holy man—a wisdom keeper—and demonstrates devotion to understanding, the knowledge of the ages will be shared.  This is the writer’s experience.  He, a white man, ignorant and without resources, defenseless in mind and purpose, came into the tribal circle and was given the great gifts of new sight and new hearing.

         

      

Photo by Pat Joynes

        To walk with awareness and insight in the natural world of Creation is the walk-in-beauty that Indians sing about.  Perhaps it was also the experience of Whitman and Emerson and the poets and psalm makers of history.  Certainly, no world teacher could be apart from the experience and still be able to demonstrate Truth.

          On this day, in this journal, this man wants to affirm that all people have the capacity to walk in beauty.  If a man like himself, born in pride and affluence, and trained to objectify Creation, can be re-created in one body over one lifetime, the same is possible for anyone.  The question, for this man, and for each individual, is whether or not we will surrender our sense of separate self in each and every moment of existence.

        In the kiva with Joseph, my Pueblo brother and mentor, there is no meeting of minds.  We do not connect through an association of ideas or concepts.  The practice is that we come together in the space of the quiet mind and enjoy communion on a level of awareness beyond the mind.  Vision is not dependent on magic.  Ritual and ceremony are only disciplines designed to disengage the mind so that true awareness is possible.  To meet in this holy place beyond the references of the conditioned mind is pure joy, pure satisfaction, pure love, pure release.  In this experience is sacred bonding and real relationship.  Peace is the original gift of Creation, and it is inherent within us all.

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