L-R: Nora Murphy, Marcie Rendon and Mai Neng Moua.
Photography by Tami Mohamed Brown
We counted on each other, as women, to get us each to this point. - Marcie Rendon
by Tami Mohamed Brown
Nora Murphy, Marcie Rendon and Mai Neng Moua are a trio of Midwest women writers with different heritages.
All three write around a common theme of woman-centered truth telling, balancing the knowledge of ancestors and culture with the challenges of American life.
All three also secured publishers and celebrated the publication of newly released books at the same time this spring: Moua and Rendon in March 2017, followed by Murphy's book in April.
Through a series of interconnecting threads, these three women writers, along with Carolyn Holbrook and Diane Wilson, found one another years ago, and have been writing together ever since. They read each other's work, listen to one another's stories, and provide critique, edits and encouragement to one another along the path to publication.
"The group expectation was not that we could do this, but that we would," Rendon says.
Mai Neng Moua is author of the memoir "The Bride Price: A Hmong Wedding Story" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017). Moua's book explores the Hmong bride price, her decision to go against family and cultural tradition, and what it means to be Hmong in America. Moua explains that she felt a sense of responsibility in telling this story.
"It takes a good deal of courage to write," she says. The group helped Moua consider where she might be holding back in telling her story. And they listened. "This is a group of women whose work I respect and whose opinions I value. They provided a safe place to ask questions."
Nora Murphy is author of "White Birch, Red Hawthorn" (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), a memoir structured as a series of linked essays on the multigenerational cost of immigration and genocide. Murphy writes of her ancestors' maple grove that was once home to three Native tribes: the Dakota, Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk. That her Irish ancestors' homestead was built upon a violent dispossession is a hard truth.
Murphy sought out women writers who, she hoped, would be able to understand her work, to learn from voices that were unlike her own. Murphy agrees that coming together as a group created a safe space to ask the questions of what she could do and what she couldn't in writing her story. "There's something unique in looking at a shared history like this," Murphy explains. "There's validation. We're an affirmation for truth telling and for seeing in a different way."
Marcie Rendon is the author of "Murder on the Red River," (Cinco Puntos Press, 2017).
A skillful playwright, author and poet, Rendon's debut mystery is set in the Red River Valley of the late 1960s and features a strong female character whose childhood was spent in the foster care system that many Native youth of the time experienced. Rendon's book tells a story that explores important cultural lessons and reminds the reader of the significant destruction that American policies have brought to Native children and families.
None of these extraordinary writers are quick to claim their successes as their own. "We counted on each other, as women, to get us each to this point," says Rendon.
Proud of their women-centric process of working together, they're now celebrating one another's accomplishments, sharing information and resources, and including one another in readings and events when possible. "The relationships are really what sustain us," says Rendon. "There really is enough for everyone."
IFYOUGO The "Women from the Center" Reading Series - held every fourth Thursday from May to September, at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier St., St. Paul - will feature one writer reading from her book. 7 p.m., a discussion follows each reading:
May 25, 2017, Mai Neng Moua, "The Bride Price"
June 22, 2017, Nora Murphy, "White Birch, Red Hawthorn"
July 27, 2017, Marcie Rendon, "Murder on the Red River"
August 24, 2017, Carolyn Holbrook, "Earth Angels"
Sept. 28, 2017, Diane Wilson, "Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past"
May 9, 2017, Marcie Rendon at the KBFT's Native Writing Fest, 5344 Lakeshore Dr., Boise Fort, (Nett Lake), Minn., 5 p.m.
May 10, 2017, Nora Murphy, Birchbark Books, 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls. 7 p.m.
May 11, 2017, Mai Neng Moua, Magers and Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 7 p.m.
May 24, 2017, Nora Murphy, SubText Books, 6 W. 5th St., St. Paul, 7 p.m.
July 29, 2017, Marcie Rendon, Mille Lacs Museum, 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, Minn.