Fiction Without Narration, Teaching Without Notes, Indiana Beyond Sugar Cream Pie | interior states


Michael Martone is not your typical fiction writer. He doesn’t tend to write stories with characters going through some kind of conflict and coming out changed on the other side. He is more interested in playing with the framework of literature. His latest book, to be published in September by Baobab Press, is Plain Air: Sketch of Winesburg, Indiana. It is a series of monologues by various residents of this fictional town based on another fictional town. He wrote what may be the only Indiana-based science fiction book: The Moon Over Wapakoneta: Fiction and Science Fiction from Indiana and Beyond. He wrote a book imagining an archive of the writings of Art Smith, a celestial writing pioneer from Martone’s hometown of Fort Wayne. For a time, he sent contributors’ notes to literary journals, asking that they be published in the “Contributor’s Notes” sections, when he had contributed nothing but the note itself. . These short fictions (and non-fictions) are collected in Michael Martone by Michael Martone. And, of course, there is The Indiana Blue Guide, a travel guide featuring destinations such as Orville Redenbacher’s Grave and the Trans-Indiana Mayonnaise Pipeline. He published a few of these descriptions in local newspapers and once received a phone call from people who had gone to have their hair done at the convent in Jasper called Our Lady of the Big Hair and Feet. They couldn’t find it, because it didn’t exist.

Writing, for Martone, is much more than publishing literature with a capital L. It is also about exploring how we frame the frame itself, to use a Martonian expression. He is interested in what makes us consider a writing as literary or not, fiction or not, real or not. Teaching writers to explore these conceptual questions is much more difficult than teaching them to write a conventional narrative, with up-and-down characters and action. Perhaps that’s also why he’s an unconventional teacher, although he ultimately doesn’t try to create writers in his mould. Its goal is to give writers the space to figure out what they want to do. He starts all of his workshops by telling his students that they all get A’s, and there’s nothing they can do to change that.

Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne and, as the contributor’s note says, went to public school there. He is perhaps the writer who has written the most about his birth state, Indiana, at least since James Whitcomb Riley and Gene Stratton-Porter. Along with all that writing, he taught a few generations of writers in graduate writing programs. The last where he taught was the University of Alabama, from which he retired in 2020. Maybe you’ve heard of him, maybe not. He is quite well known in the writing world and, as far as I can tell, unfairly unknown outside of it. He was a beloved teacher for forty years of writing students. He recently came to Bloomington for the Granfalloon Literary Festival, where some of his works had been adapted for the stage. We talked about writing lyrical versus narrative fiction, how the rise of creative writing programs shaped the style of American literary fiction, why he doesn’t give grades in his classes, and what it means to be an Indiana writer.


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