Leslie Marmon Silko was born on March 5, 1948, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Raised on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation in northern New Mexico, Silko’s cultural and ethnic heritage was a mix of Laguna Pueblo, Plains Indian, Mexican, and Anglo-American. She attended schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Catholic schools in Albuquerque. Also central to her education were several generations of women in her family, such as her grandmother and aunt, from whom she learned much about her cultural traditions. In 1969 Silko received her B.A. from the University of New Mexico, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her short story “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” was first published while she was still in college, and has since been reprinted in several anthologies. She briefly attended law school, but left in order to pursue a career in writing. Silko has taught at Navajo Community College in Tsaile, Arizona; the University of New Mexico; and the department of English at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She spent two years living in Alaska, where she wrote her first novel, Ceremony (1977).
Silko’s writing emerged from the revival of Native American literature in the 1970s referred to as the Native American Renaissance. It was the positive critical response to Ceremony which first established Silko’s place as one of the most celebrated Native American writers of her generation. Ceremony also helped establish Silko’s characteristic literary style of incorporating the oral tradition of storytelling in Native American culture into the novelistic, poetic, and short story form. As a result, some of Silko’s earlier short stories garnered renewed attention, and many of them have since been anthologized in collections of Native American literature. Her collection Storyteller, in which “Lullaby” appears, combines fiction and non-fiction stories with poetry and photographs taken by her father, a professional photographer.
Upon receiving a distinguished MacArthur Foundation grant in 1981, Silko was able to use her time working on her epic-scale novel Almanac of the Dead (1992). Almanac of the Dead focuses on a mixed-race family over five centuries of struggle between Native American and European American cultures. The work took her ten years to write, and has received mixed critical response. Her series of films based on Laguna oral traditions was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Silko has since taken up the production of books made by her own hands, under her own imprint Flood Plains Press, in addition to publishing a collection of essays on contemporary Native American life. Her novel Gardens in the Dunes was published in 1999.