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N.M. Authors Go Back to School: Momaday, Anaya and Hillerman Participate in Symposium at Jemez Springs High by Anthony DellaFlora, Journal Staff Writer

Transcribed from Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 6, 2002

 CANON – It was a once-in-lifetime-event – the first public appearance together by renowned New Mexico authors N. Scott Momaday, Rudolfo Anaya and Tony Hillerman.

Paul Bearce, For the Journal MEETING OF THE MINDS: Rudolfo Anaya, left N. Scott Momaday and Tony Hillerman talk Saturday before appearing at Jemez Springs High School. The three best-selling New Mexico authors appeared together for the first time at a fund-raiser for the Jemez Springs Library.Paul Bearce/Albuquerque Journal

MEETING OF THE MINDS: Rudolfo Anaya, left N. Scott Momaday and Tony Hillerman talk Saturday before appearing at Jemez Springs High School. The three best-selling New Mexico authors appeared together for the first time at a fund-raiser for the Jemez Springs Library.Paul Bearce/Albuquerque Journal

Saturday’s symposium at Jemez Springs High School was more like a gathering in someone’s living room.

The living room was actually the school gymnasium, and more than 400 visitors from all over New Mexico, neighboring states and places as far as Seattle, New York City and Detroit were crammed into it. Many were standing.

The three authors conducted an intimate and humorous discussion about everything from the writing process to their reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to why they love living in New Mexico.

“It was awe-inspiring. I’m gonna run home and write a novel,” said Anaya, who, like Momaday, maintains a home in nearby Jemez Springs.

“A Pulitzer Price (winner) on one hand, Tony Hillerman on the other and I’m trying to think of what to say,” Anaya said. “It was fun; it was enjoyable and the outpouring of people who came to listen to three humble writers even makes you more humble.”

Hillerman and Momaday enjoyed themselves, too.

“It was a great honor. I respect both of them very much. They’re good writers, and it’s just nice to be in their company,” Momaday said.

The afternoon brought together Momaday, a Kiowa, whose novel “House Made of Dawn,” won the Pulitzer Prize; Hillerman, the best-selling author of a series of mystery novels set on the Navajo Reservation; and Anaya, widely recognized as the father of Chicano literature and the author of “Bless Me, Ultima.”

As visitors began filling up the auditorium more than an hour before the event, they were greeted by tables laden with the works of the prolific authors.

Most of the stock was gone by the time the authors sat down to sign their books afterward.

“It was wonderful,” said Josephine Yazza, who lives in northern Arizona. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, because it’s always nice to get a down-home thing. It feels better when you get to see them and you understand some of their stories.

“Eloquent, they were all so eloquent,” said Jemez Springs resident Judy Cunningham. “It’s so amazing to see these guys. They’re your neighbors and your friends, and they’re up there expounding all this wisdom.”

“I think it was terrific,” said Kathleen Wiegner, who moderated the discussion. “I thought the authors were forthcoming. I thought they were funny.”

Hillerman started off, for example, by answering a question he said had been posed to him before.

TURNING PAGES: Author Tony Hillerman looks through a book with Helenmarie Zachritz of Espanola at Jemez Springs High School. Paul Bearce/Albuquerque Journal

TURNING PAGES: Author Tony Hillerman looks through a book with Helenmarie Zachritz of Espanola at Jemez Springs High School. Paul Bearce/Albuquerque Journal

“How come you, a redneck white guy, is writing about Navajos, or about any kind of Indians?” he said.

Hillerman explained that he grew up in Oklahoma, among Indian children, and developed an affinity for them, which carried into adulthood.

At another point, Anaya recalled his reply to a question about the writing process.

“I don’t have any trade secrets. Go out and feel some pain,” he said.

Phyllis Morgan, who drove up from Albuquerque, spoke for many in the audience.

“This is a real treat. I’m really excited. I’ve been sick; it was like getting off my death bed,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, even if they had to wheel me in on an operating table or a wheelchair.”

The event was organized by Friends of the Jemez Springs Library.

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