Leslie Marmon Silko was born to Leland Howard Marmon and Mary Virginia Leslie Marmon in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 5, 1948. She lived with her family of two sisters on the Laguna Pueblo reservation. They were mixed bloods on the edge of Laguna life, not allowed to fully participate in the rituals. Leslie loved the Pueblo ways and could ride horses, herd cattle, and hunt. She learned the folklore from the elders in the family.
She went to Albuquerque Catholic day school where she was forbidden the use of the Keres language, and then attended Highland Catholic High School. She married Richard Chapman in 1966 and had a son, Robert William. They separated in 1969, and Leslie Marmon received her B.A. in English from the University of New Mexico in the same year. That was also the same year she published her first short story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds.” In 1971 she took graduate courses in English at the University of New Mexico but left to teach on the Navajo reservation at Tsaile. She married John Silko that year and received a National Endowment for the Arts Discovery Grant. She had a son, Cazimir, in 1972 and moved with her family to Ketchikan, Alaska, in 1973 where she began writing Ceremony, published in 1977. Her poetry won a Pushcart prize the same year.
Silko divorced her husband in 1976 and taught on the faculty of the University of New Mexico until 1978. She moved to Tucson then, where she taught at the University of Arizona. Her second famous book, Storyteller, 1981, is a collection of poems, short stories, and native lore that explains the background of Ceremony. She won the MacArthur Prize Fellowship and used the money to write Almanac of the Dead, her controversial 750-page novel about the four-hundred-year genocide of North American Indians. The book predicts the reemergence of the Indian races after the fall of white civilization.
She used her own publishing house, Flood Plains Press, to print Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures (1993). Her views on Native American art and contemporary life are given in her book of essays and stories, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today (1996).
Her third novel, Gardens in the Dunes (1999), contrasts native and American attitudes to nature. In 2010, she published her memoir, The Turquoise Ledge, about her life in the Tucson mountains. She has received many awards, including the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for fiction in 2000.