This story first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Bangor Metro. Visit BDNoffers.com to subscribe.
By Erinne Magee
Within nine months during the pandemic, local author and writing teacher Morgan Talty signed a book deal with publisher Tin House and was named a Creative Writing Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. awarding a grant of $25,000.
In her forthcoming first book, “Night of the Living Rez,” Talty brings together a collection of stories about what it means to be Penobscot in the 21st century and what it means to live, survive, and persevere after tragedy.
Talty’s passions for Indigenous studies and writing also emerge in the classroom, where he teaches for the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine as well as the University of Maine and Workshop. of writing from Dallas.
We recently caught up with Talty who is already working on her next book, a novel tentatively titled “A Year of the Frog Clan.”
Publisher’s Weekly named you a writer to watch and included a quote from your editor who initially compared you to well-known authors, but made sure to say there really aren’t any mock titles. Did you see your own writing stand out in a unique way and did that help move the needle or cause any hesitation?
I really felt like I saw the collection as different from what’s out there, but didn’t really think about it until others said the same (like mentors or friends who read) . I didn’t want to copy anyone – I wanted to write something unique about how I tell stories. And I will say that I think its uniqueness and incomparableness made it difficult to find the right people. I asked questions for about a year and a half, and while many agents loved the stories, they just said, “I don’t know how to sell this.” I guess I finally got lucky with my agent Rebecca Friedman and Tin House Publishing! I want publishers to put out more diverse and maybe transgressive literature, different things.
Writers are often told to write what they know. So tapping into your Indigenous background probably comes naturally, but I’d like to know how much giving a voice to the Penobscot Nation inspires your work?
I consider myself one of the many artists trying to give voice to the Penobscot Nation [and] that our collective efforts across genres and media will help bring about the changes needed. And so, when it comes to the Nation in particular, the expanse is probably one of the biggest sources of inspiration. Location is as important as character.
As a teacher, do you see a tendency for students to use their work to process current events (as opposed, perhaps, to writing to process life in general)?
Yes and no. I really think what students write these days tends to be about life and current events (in many cases the two can be inseparable). However, what is unique about writing today is that for most students (or young writers), writing has become a collaborative and participatory activity. Today, people are writing more than ever in human history, and with the internet and social media, this writing is heavily produced (by individuals or collectives) and consumed.
In your personal statement after receiving the NEA grant, you shared how this award keeps you going, keeping you writing, and building confidence. What is your advice for those who could really benefit from a similar price?
Most grants are generally very competitive – and I think there is a shortage of grants for artists in the United States – both at the federal and state levels. It’s like every writer is aiming for the same four or five big grants to help support their career and their art. But, my advice to those who may benefit from a similar scholarship is, when applying, to contact past recipients and seek their advice.
When “Night of the Living Rez” comes out in July, what do you hope readers take away from closing the spine?
How important we are to each other – how precious love is to family and friends, even if those relationships are sometimes messy and unbearable. We need each other.