Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oliver La Farge wrote of Navajo tribe

Oliveer La Farge
It is the birthday of writer and anthropologist Oliver La Farge (1901), whose first novel, Laughing Boy (1929), won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930. Laughing Boy is the story of a love between a Navajo boy and an American-educated Navajo girl. It examines the clash of American and Native American cultures in the Southwest. It was adapted as a 1934 film starring Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez.

La Farge was born in New York into an accomplished Northeastern family. His full name was Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge. He was named for his great-grandfather, American naval hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. His father was Beaux-Arts architect Christopher Grant La Farge. His grandfather was painter and stained glass pioneer John La Farge. He was descended from Mayflower pilgrims, Narragansett natives and Benjamin Franklin. He graduated from Harvard University in 1924 and earned a Master's Degree there in 1929.

While he was at Harvard, his participation in an archaeological trip to study Navajo ruins in northern Arizona may have sparked his lifelong interest in earlier cultures, particularly the Navajos. He became an anthropologist, did research into the Mayan cultures in Central America, married socialite Wanden Matthews in New York, had two children, and settled in the Southwest in the 1920s. The marriage didn't last and La Farge remarried Consuelo Baca, the daughter of a New Mexico rancher. His oldest son, Peter La Farge, shared his father's enthusiasm for Native American culture and was a well known Greenwich Village folk singer in the 1950s and 1960s.

 La Farge devoted much of his adult life to Native American causes. He served as president of two Indian affairs associations, and wrote extensively about Native American issues, including a column for the Santa Fe newspaper The New Mexican. His columns were collected and published in a book The Man With the Calabash Pipe (1966).

La Farge wrote 24 books as well as dozens of articles and short stories. His books include Sparks Fly Upward (1931), Long Pennant (1933) and The Copper Pot (1942). His short story collections include All the Young Men (1935),  A Pause in the Desert (1957), and The Door in the Wall (1965, published posthumously). His autobiography is Raw Material (1945).

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