Mr. Momaday was born Navarre Scott Mammedaty in Lawton, Okla., on Feb. 27, 1934. He explained in “The Names: A Memoir” that Mammedaty, as a single appellation, was his grandfather’s name. It means “walking above” in Kiowa. During his grandfather’s lifetime, the Kiowa began to designate surnames. The author’s father, Alfred Morris Momaday, a full-blooded Kiowa, changed the name to Momaday, the author wrote, “for reasons of his own.”
The father was an artist and teacher who contributed the distinctive illustrations in “The Way to Rainy Mountain.” His mother, Mayme Natachee Scott Momaday, also a teacher, was descended from early American pioneers as well as a Cherokee great-grandmother. The author was originally raised among Kiowa relatives on a family farm in Oklahoma; his parents later found work at the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, where he also spent part of his childhood.
Mr. Momaday attended the University of New Mexico and graduated in 1958 with a degree in political science. He earned a master’s and a doctorate in English from Stanford University under the mentorship of the literary theorist and critic Yvor Winters. He taught English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Berkeley and Stanford, and taught English and comparative literature at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Mr. Momaday’s two marriages, to Gaye Mangold and Regina B. Heitzer-Momaday, both ended in divorce. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Jill Momaday and Brit Momaday-Leight; a daughter from his second marriage, Lore Denny; eight grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. Another daughter from his first marriage, Cael Momaday, died in 2017.
Mr. Momaday’s work was sometimes criticized for being repetitive, but he said that was intentional.
“I’ve written several books, but to me they are all part of the same story,” he wrote. “And I like to repeat myself, if you will, from book to book, in the way that Faulkner did — in an even more obvious way, perhaps. My purpose is to carry on what was begun a long time ago; there’s no end to it that I see.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.