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Rising New England author speaks about debut novel, ‘Night of the Living Rez’

Morgan Talty speaks with Kara Nye, co-director of the Holyoke Food and Equity Collective and an enrolled member of the Little Traverse Bay Band (LTBB) of Odawa Indians, at a bookstore event for "Night of the Living Rez."
Courtesy of Morgan Talty
Morgan Talty speaks with Kara Nye, co-director of the Holyoke Food and Equity Collective and an enrolled member of the Little Traverse Bay Band (LTBB) of Odawa Indians, at a bookstore event for "Night of the Living Rez."

The New England Book Awards are coming up with final ballots due next week. “Night of the Living Rez” is one of five books that are finalists for the award in fiction.

The book is a collection of stories by author Morgan Talty that center around one character and his life on the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine. Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation, where he grew up. He spoke with host Julia Furukawa on All Things Considered about his debut novel. Below is a transcript of their conversation.


Julia Furukawa: Morgan, you yourself are a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation. And it's my understanding you grew up on the Penobscot Reservation.

Morgan Talty: I did, yes. And I am.

Julia Furukawa: And is that where you maybe drew some of the inspiration for your characters through your lived experience?

Morgan Talty: Definitely, yeah. I think the characters themselves aren't necessarily representations of specific people, but the experiences they have and their relationships to themes of substance abuse, addiction, loss, all of those things I have personal stakes in. And so I drew on those to help sort of create this world for these characters.

Julia Furukawa: And what do you want readers to take away from your novel?

Morgan Talty: I'd love for readers to, when they put the book down, to feel a greater sense of compassion and empathy, working with and loving people in their lives who may be very difficult.

Julia Furukawa: Yeah, that makes me think, so, intergenerational trauma. It's a key theme that runs through “Night of the Living Rez.” What was it like to write about that?

Mooky Cherie Photography
Courtesy of Tin House

Morgan Talty: Yeah, it's there in ways that we can see, in ways that we cannot see. It's intergenerational trauma. It's in our genetics. It's in our blood. We carry the pain and the atrocities committed against our ancestors. I mean, my approach was never to be like, I'm going to write a book about intergenerational trauma. It just so happens to have to be there to write this Indigenous story. You know, writing about intergenerational trauma I thought was important, because I feel like more Indigenous literature is taking on that topic.

Julia Furukawa: Well, I would like to offer you congratulations, because you are a finalist for the New England Book Award in Fiction.

Morgan Talty: Thank you.

Julia Furukawa: Yeah. What was it like finding that out?

Morgan Talty: It was very exciting. I haven't expected anything, really, with this book. But to know that I am a finalist in the fiction category just feels amazing. It feels like all the work I put into this book paid off in a lot of different ways, and I'm so grateful for those who helped get it to that spot.

Julia Furukawa: And what's next for you as a writer and as a person?

Morgan Talty: So I just recently accepted an offer to teach as an assistant professor at the University of Maine in Orono. So I'm very excited to start there this fall. I've been there this past year, but now I'm actually in the creative writing faculty, so that's awesome. And I would tell folks to keep an eye out for maybe a book announcement for a novel in 2024.

Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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