Local author and writing teacher Morgan Talty signed a book contract with publisher Tin House and was named a creative writing fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, awarding him a $25,000 grant. Credit: Courtesy of Morgan Talty

This story first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Bangor Metro. Visit BDNoffers.com to subscribe.

By Erinne Magee

Within a nine month time frame during the pandemic, local author and writing teacher Morgan Talty signed a book contract with publisher Tin House and was named a creative writing fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, awarding him a $25,000 grant.

In his upcoming debut book, “Night of the Living Rez,” Talty weaves together a collection of stories about what it means to be Penobscot in the 21st century and what it means to live, to survive and to persevere after tragedy. 

Talty’s passions for Native studies and writing also emerge in the classroom, where he teaches for the Stonecoast MFA program through the University of Southern Maine as well as at University of Maine and Writing Workshop Dallas.

We recently caught up with Talty who is already working on his 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 some well-known authors, but made sure to say there really are no comp titles. Did you see your own writing as standing out in a unique way and did that help move the needle or cause hesitation? 

I definitely felt like I saw the collection as being unlike what’s out there, but I didn’t quite give it much thought until others said the same thing (like mentors or friends who read). I didn’t want to copy anybody — I wanted to write something unique to how I tell stories. And I will say I do think that its uniqueness and incomparableness made it hard to find the right people. I queried 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 got lucky ultimately with my agent Rebecca Friedman and Tin House Publishing! I want publishers to publish more diverse and perhaps transgressive literature, stuff that’s different. 

Writers are often told to write what they know. So drawing on your indigenous background probably comes naturally, but I’d love to know to what extent giving a voice to Penobscot Nation inspires your work? 

I consider myself one of many artists who are trying to give voice to the Penobscot Nation [and] that our collective efforts across genres and mediums will help bring about needed change. And so when it comes to the Nation specifically, the extent is probably one of the largest sources of inspiration. Place is as important as character is. 

As a teacher, are you seeing a trend in students using their work to process current events (versus, maybe, writing to process life in general)? 

Yes and no. I definitely think what students are writing about these days tends to be to process life and process current events (in many instances, the two might be inseparable). However, what’s unique about writing today is that to most students (or younger writers), writing has become a collaborative and participatory activity. People today are writing more than ever before in humanity’s history, and with the internet and social media, that writing is highly produced (by individuals or collectives) and consumed. 

In your personal statement upon receiving the NEA grant, you talked about how that award keeps you going, keeps writing possible and boosts confidence. What is your advice for those who could really benefit from a similar award? 

Most grants out there are usually very competitive — and I do think there is a shortage of grants for artists in the US — both at the federal and state level. It’s like every writer out there is aiming for the same four or five big grants to help sustain their career and art. But, my advice to those who could benefit from a similar award is, when applying, reach out to former recipients and ask them for guidance. 

When “Night of the Living Rez” releases in July, what do you hope readers take away when they close the spine? 

Just how important we are to each other — how valuable love is to family and friends, even if those relationships are messy and unbearable at times. We need each other.