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Leslie Marmon Silko wins $100,000 prize from arts academy

March 11, 2020 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — Leslie Marmon Silko, winner of a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, sees universal reach in her writings about her Laguna Pueblo heritage.

“I’m especially proud of asserting the notion that we indigenous people are citizens of the world,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I’ve tried in my fiction to reflect that we have the same underpinnings, mythologically, that the Greeks and Romans and Scandinavians have given to the culture.”

The academy announced Wednesday that the 72-year-old Silko is this year’s winner of the Christopher Lightfoot Walker Award for “significant contribution” to American literature. A key member of the so-called “Native American Renaissance” that began in the 1960s, she is known for her poems and stories and for such novels as “Ceremony” and “Almanac of the Dead.” She said winning the Walker award encouraged her about the current state of reading.

“It has seemed that literature and books and writing have gone into decline in the digital age,” she said. “I had forgotten that there are people who still love literature, serious literature.”

The Lightfoot award is a biannual prize first given in 2018 to Thomas Pynchon.

The academy awarded prizes to 19 writers overall, 13 of them women. The honors include $10,000 prizes for “exceptional achievement” to Viet Thanh Nguyen, Wayne Koestenbaum, Marie Arana, Sandra Lim and four others. Author and foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni won the $25,000 Blake-Dodd prize for nonfiction, Christine Schutt received the $20,000 Katherine Anne Porter Award for prose writing and Mary Ruefle won the $20,000 Arthur Rense Poetry Prize.

Valeria Luiselli received a $10,000 prize for “a young writer of considerable literary talent” for her novel “Lost Children Archive.” The E.M. Forster Award, a $10,000 honor for an outstanding young writer from Ireland or the United Kingdom, was given to the Belfast poet Stephen Sexton.

The academy is an honor society founded in 1898.