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Quarantine Questions with CWBF Guest Tiffany Midge

Tiffany Midge

August 27, 2020

The Central Wisconsin Book Festival will take place Sept. 21-27, 2020. Before it happens, we want to share a bit about some of the guests so we've asked a few to answer some questions that festival organizers have.

Below is a back-and-forth between CWBF committee member Danielle Hale and Tiffany Midge, who will appear during two virtual events, Sept. 24 and Sept. 27.

Quarantine Questions with Tiffany Midge

I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Tiffany Midge.

I first heard about her just after I finished grad school in 2017. I was looking up Native American women writers because I wanted to read more from authors I could identify with. (Midge is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in South Dakota. I’m Ojibwe-Cree from Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, but I grew up in South Dakota.) When I stumbled upon her 1996 collection, “Outlaws, Renegades, and Saints: Diary of a Mixed-Up Halfbreed,” I was hooked.

Maybe it was because I saw myself in some of the things she said. Maybe it was because I didn’t see myself in others. Either way, I liked what I was reading. So, when I became a member of the Central Wisconsin Book Festival committee, I knew I’d end up suggesting Midge as a possible guest.

A poet and essayist, Midge lives and writes in Idaho. Her work has appeared in publications such as McSweeney’s, Waxwing, and Indian Country Today. She’s a pushcart prize winner. Her most recent book, a memoir in the form of essays called “Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s,” was a 2020 Washington State Book Award finalist.

Midge is funny. And I don’t just mean “heh, that’s cute,” funny. I mean put-the-book-down-because-I-can’t-read-through-my-tears funny. I think right now, we all need a little of that.

In preparation for the book festival, Midge and I have been exchanging emails. Recently, I sent her a few questions to get to know her a little better.

 

First of all, how have you been keeping yourself busy during the pandemic? Have you taken up any new hobbies or learned any new skills?

I’ve been perfecting the art of being a shut-in. Before the “corn-teen” I only competed in the amateur leagues, but I think I’ve almost mastered this thing.

This Tweet sums it up: “Got Out Of Bed Today.” An inspiring and triumphant Native American memoir about hope and redemption. Buy it and the sequels “I Want Some Coffee,” and “Gonna Take a Shower.” Critics are raving! Millions of copies sold!

 

In a previous interview, you said that your most recently released book, “Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese's,” got noticed by publishers when you posted about the idea on social media. How important is social media to you? What role does it play for you as a writer?

I’m addicted to the socials just as much as the next person, probably. It’s an outlet made appealing by its immediate feedback. How else would I know that Joyce Carol Oates messed up her foot while hiking without proper shoes? The internet is a goddamn marvel!

 

In one essay from “Bury My Heart,” you write about using newspaper and social media headlines as inspiration for your writing. You've also recently talked on social media about reading through your mother's letters and how they've inspired you, as well. How do you get from source material like headlines or your mother's letters to a fully written piece? What is your process like?

There’s writing prompts everywhere, of course, and depending on what kind of writing I’m taking on, there’s different go-tos. I recently met a deadline and submitted a poem about how the Land O’Lakes Indian maiden disappeared, bringing into conversation about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), sexual objectification of Native women, and product mascotry.

The Spokesman-Review asked me for a short story for their Summer Stories series on the theme of Mount St. Helens. So, I researched Mount St. Helens, and used notes and fragments in my “essays in progress” file to complete a draft of the story, which I ended up liking a lot. And I recently submitted two creative nonfiction pieces: one about my mother’s letters—which still needs work. And another about Covid-19 and its compelling associations with winged creatures throughout history, tying in some of my personal impressions.

Media and advertisements have been a go-to for me. Twitter is a writing prompt. During Q&As when the question about the writing process comes up, I say that my writing process consists of a tall mug of coffee first thing in the morning, sitting down at my desk, and then scrolling through Facebook for the next eight to 10 hours.

 

What else inspires you?

Injustices. Tourists who think Yellowstone is a petting zoo. Native American experts and spokespeople who aren’t Native American. American’s lack of basic understanding about Mount Rushmore. Pumpkin spice lattes and how “The Handmaid’s Tale” is only tragic if white women are oppressed. Encounters on walks, or in public, in whatever form that takes. Public discourse and news of the day types of things. Anything ironical.

 

Before “Bury My Heart,” you released mostly poetry, and your forthcoming book is also a collection of poetry, so you have experience with poetry, prose, and pieces that are somewhere in between. When you start writing a piece, do you make a conscious decision what form it will take? How do you know, for example, that something should be a lyric essay instead of a poem?

For me personally, there is definitely a lot of boundary overlapping in what constitutes a poem from a creative nonfiction essay, or a lyric essay. While I will designate a lyrical essay as a nonfiction piece, for example, I will base its criteria on whether it is an actual experience, something true from my life. While I would consider poetry less rigid, in that I can invent content. But, a satirical piece has its own set of rules. And I’m not 100 percent sure what those are, yet. Probably what most defines a satirical essay is its lack of so-called rules.

 

Finally, can you tell me a little about your upcoming poetry collection?

Its title, “Horns,” is from the title of a series of various pieces about the “accidental” daughter of the devil. It is a fragmented journal of sorts from a half-demon girl’s coming of age. The other section of the book includes poems about the Bride of Frankenstein, Anne Darrow, King Kong’s love interest, the Corpse Bride, cannibals’ weddings, tentacle porn, the Fifty-Foot Woman, Lizzy Borden, and more. All autobiographical. The very awesome boutique press Scablands Books will publish it, and the release date is TBA.

 

Tiffany Midge will join the Central Wisconsin Book Festival for a humor-based panel with former CEO of the Onion, Steve Hannah on Thursday, September 24th at 7:00 p.m. She will also give a reading and answer questions at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 27th. All appearances will be via Zoom. The festival is free and open to the public.



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image credit: https://tiffanymidge.wixsite.com/website