Conversing with Author, Playwrite, Teacher, Activist Marcie Rendon

Marcie Rendon is an author of true crime, fiction and non-fiction, a playwright, and an award-winning poet. Besides all that, she is an instructor and editor in the Women’s Writing Program in Minnesota county jails in Anoka, Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington counties through the COMPAS organization.

Kathryn Schleich: Where did you grow up?

Marcie Rendon: I grew up in Northern Minnesota, mostly in the Red River Valley and the western side of the White Earth Reservation.

KS: Did you always have the desire to be a writer?

MR: Once I learned how to write, I enjoyed writing and I wrote short stories in grade school and poetry in high school. I continued to write into adulthood, mostly poetry, but I didn’t know that as a Native woman, I could make a living as a writer.

KS: What’s the first piece you published?

MR: Back in the early 1980s Women’s Dance Health Project created a “moon calendar” and some of my poetry was published there. My first non-fiction short story was the book, Birth Stories.

KS: What’s your educational background and/or writing-related employment?

MR: My BA degrees are in Criminal Justice and American Indian Studies. I also have an MA in Human Development, which I wrote my way through by self-directed research and then producing papers on selected topics. I have worked as a freelance journalist and as a freelance writer for various publications, mostly regional.

KS: Do you have a specific writing process that works for you?

MR: The process that works best for me is to sit my butt down in front of my computer or laptop and write – regardless of whatever else is happening around me. I absolutely treasure and am eternally grateful for the writing residencies I have been privileged to attend. The first one was Norcroft Writer’s Retreat for Women. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Since that retreat in the early 1990s I have tried to have access to at least one writing retreat a year. The silence, solitude and space are crucial to my productivity.

KS: You are an award-winning poet, fiction and non-fiction author, and freelance writer. That’s many hats to wear! Do you have a favorite genre or are they all of equal importance?

MR: I love to write. The putting together of words and creating images and sensory experiences and characters that feel real – I love it. All of it.

KS: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

MR: I had a Journalism internship in the 1990s. Art Coulson was my editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press at the time. The whole idea of gathering information and cranking out a story on deadline was very helpful for quieting the inner critic that can have you editing forever.

KS: On the opposite side, what advice would you give aspiring authors?

MR: I also think that Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is required reading for all wanna-be writers. The other thing I tell people is write, and then submit. Write and submit. Dare to receive those rejections.

KS: Your debut novel, Murder on the Red River, was published in 2017.  How did the idea for this story originate?

MR: I had given up writing crime, thinking I didn’t have what it takes. I had turned to writing a story about a young woman who goes to Nashville to try to break into the country music business. Cash, the main character in Murder on the Red River, showed up and said, ‘No no no, this is the story you are going to tell.’  Another piece of advice: Listen to those voices in your head!

KS: What would you like to accomplish with this book?

MR: My intention was to write a crime story that people would enjoy reading. I also want my stories to always be a mirror for other Native people, so they can read the books and say, yeah, this is us.

KS: You have also authored four children’s books. One of the other authors I’ve interviewed, Dr. Artika Tyner, has written several children’s books also grounded in non-fiction, dealing with African American history, noting there is still far too little diversity in children’s literature and providing a historical context. Do you have a similar goal with the non-fiction children’s books you’ve written?

MR: My goal with my non-fiction books is to create a current day view of who we are as Native people for Native children to have a mirror of who they and their families are. I think it is important that all children know that Native people are alive, exist today, drive cars, live in houses – are just like everyone else.

KS: What would you like your legacy as a writer to be?

MR: That is too big a question for me to answer. I just want to write, be published, have my plays produced – and get paid to do so.  Like I said before, I also want to write stories that other Native people can be proud to read.

KS: How does being a Native American infuse your writing?

MR: My work is Native-centric. I think that when one lives their life as authentically as possible your work is infused with the culture and way of life.

KS: What projects are you currently working on?

MR: I am working on book three of the series. Book two, Girl Gone Missing, came out in June of 2019. I am working on a full-length play that I hope to have finished soon as well as any number of smaller writing projects. I am also collaborating with Art Coulson on a Native American romance novel.

KS: I am also familiar with your involvement as an editor and instructor with the Women’s Writing Program at the Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington County jails. Dawne Brown-White (COMPAS Executive Director) provides me with the incredible poetry these women write, and I’ve included some of it in past blogs. How did you come to be involved with this unique program?

MR: Diego Vazquez is a well-known author and poet in the Twin Cities. He also hosts a Sunday morning writer’s group which I sporadically attend. He and Gwen Lerner are the brains behind the Women’s Writing Program and Diego invited me to join him in going into the jails. One of my first jobs was working for Heart of the Earth Survival School’s Prison Program where we went into the five state prisons and I taught GED basics. It is good work to do.

KS: How do you guide these women in creating poetry that speaks to their often difficult personal experiences?

MR: Both Diego and I tell the women that poetry requires writing from the heart. It is not a “thinking” activity. We tell them that if they have feelings while they are writing, the reader will also feel emotion. This seems to be the encouragement they need to go deeper into their personal experiences than they initially think they can.

KS: What’s the most important lesson you wish to pass on to these women?

MR: Writing heals. Art heals. We also want them to hopefully realize they are more than their past and way more than their crime.

KS: For readers of these poetry journals, what is the most important lesson you’d like for them to learn?

MR: I would want readers to realize the same – that these women are way more than their past and way more than their crime.

KS: Is there anything I’ve left out that you would like to add?

MR: In my Incubator Residency at Weisman Art Museum (WAM), I will research the causes and effects of the disproportionate rates of incarcerations of Native American women in Minnesota.

I also have stories in these anthologies:

  • Connecting the Dots, Serial Killers True Crime anthology, edited by Mitzi Szereto, 2020.
  • A Dream DeferredWhat God Is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color, edited by Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang, University of Minnesota Press, 2019.
  • Open to Possibilities, Promophobia, Sisters In Crime Anthology, edited by Diane Vallere; Midnight Ink; 2019
  • Tonight Wasn’t Her Night to DieDown to the River anthology, edited by Tim O’Mara; April 2019.
  • Akinomaage – We draw laws from our environments, we draw analogies from there and we can distinguish from there. “Aki” is earth, “nomaage” is to take directions from it. “Akinomaage” is a sense from learning from the land. Written by Ogimaa Wab

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