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Meet Margaret Malone, 2023 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2023 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 500+ applications we received, and selected 13 writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. Applications for the 2024 Literary Fellowships will open in June 2023.

Margaret Malone is the author of the story collection People Like You, which was a finalist for the 2016 PEN Hemingway Award, winner of the 2016 Balcones Fiction Prize, and selected as one of the Northwest’s “25 Books to Read Before You Die” by Powell’s Books. A recent MacDowell Fellow, her writing can be found in BOMBThe RumpusPaper DartsOregon Humanities, and elsewhere. Margaret is the recipient of the Laurell Swails and Donald Monroe Memorial Fellowship in Fiction.

Q&A with Literary Arts

Who are some writers you look up to or who move you to write? 
So many, so many. Ask me on a given day and I will likely give you a different answer, depending on who I am currently obsessed with. But, writers I lean on for inspiration and permission include: Han Kang, Samantha Hunt, Toni Morrison, Susan Choi, Grace Paley, James Baldwin, Layli Long Soldier, Chelsea Minnis, Haruki Murakami, Ali Smith, Charles Schultz… I could on, but I’ll save you and stop there.

What are your sources of inspiration? Of joy?
Rain. Long walks (especially when it’s windy and rain is imminent but it hasn’t started yet – or is sunny and warm but not hot and there’s a breeze). Catching glimpses of people doing something they love unaware of being watched. Trees. Fresh fruit. My kids and their willingness to explore the world around them in large and small ways. Being awake before the sunrise. The moon, in all its phases. Yosemite’s High Country. The impermanence of all things, such a relief.

How would you describe your creative process?
Write without knowing where it will go. First drafts by hand. Revise. Revise. Revise. Revise. Revise. Revise. Revise. Be unable to stand another revision, and hope it’s done enough to seem done. Release.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Oh my gosh. Most exciting is the acknowledgment that is implied with a fellowship award – all the long hours, all the dark mornings, all the uncertainty are showing up on the page in a meaningful way that resonates beyond the me who sits at my desk with her fingers crossed, hoping it might be something. It’s that head nod, “I see you” – that’s what’s most exciting.

What are you currently working on?
I’m on the third draft of a novel I started in 2020 that has taken me on quite a ride. It feels unconventional and I don’t know if I will be allowed to do/can pull off what I’m trying to do but I’m going to try to do it anyway.

What has kept you writing?
Separating art and commodity in my daily practice: that’s what’s kept me writing most with the most joy over the past few years. In order to write this novel, I have had to see it only as a story that lives through me everyday I sit down to write, something accessible through effort and curiosity and exploration. If I slip, and begin to think about it as an object that will be sold and edited and marketed, it’s harder to hear what the book wants to say, what the novel wants to be. If I am lucky, the book will eventually exist as an object that can be sold, marketed, and read, and digested, and shared. For now, I need to see it as only a process-oriented, creative endeavor that is rooted in my own curiosity, about where things might go moment to moment and day to day when I sit down to write.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Keep applying!!!!! Don’t give up!! Sometimes (almost always) it takes years. And that’s okay.

Any book (or movie, album, show, etc.) recommendations?

Here’s what I’ve been ingesting lately.

  • Reading: The Swimmers (a second time) by Julie Otsuka, Daniela Molnar’s new poetry book CHORUS and Rick Rubin’s book The Creative Act.
  • Watching: Dave and Algiers, America and still undone by Todd Field’s Tar that I watched earlier this year and just knocked me out completely.
  • Listening to: Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite on repeat and Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru.

Excerpt from The Unknown Woman

There was a story I was trying to tell. A story about, well… It was an important story. So it felt anyway, as the story was trying to make its way out of me. Out of wherever it is stories emerge from. No, revise that. It should say: from out of wherever it is stories emerge because the sentence will be better if it lands on a hard sound – the juh of emerge.

Shh. We’re off track again.

Where was I? Yes. That’s right. I didn’t know how to write the book.

I asked an agent. Woof. That was an idea not to have. Asked an editor. Asked a kitten. They all had different opinions. What I wanted was the way through that could only be mine. Or, no. What I wanted was the way through that could only be this book’s: the book to become itself is what I wanted.

Here. Nothing left to do now but begin.

Don’t worry. We could always circle back if we need to start again.

A motel. On the side of Highway 101 in Northern California. It’s 1985.

            A girl: Angie. Revise that. She wants to be named Lennie. I like that. Lennie.

She’s 10.

            Her mother is at work and Lennie’s alone in the motel room. Room 16 on the second floor. Lennie is often alone in the motel room. She and the motel room understand each other very well. They are both calm and quiet, gently ragged around the edges, and waiting for something to temporarily fill up the space inside them.

Judge’s Comments

“These rich, deep, exciting experiments in storytelling are both metafictional but also earnest and conversant with the most pressing problems of family and childhood.  Deceptively simple, these sophisticated arguments about how storytelling functions are trenchant and funny and alive with curiosity.”

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