VOICES Reader Brings Midwest Charm to St. Mary’s Campus

Debra Marquart reads from her memoir “The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere,” a collection of short stories about growing up in North Dakota. (photo by Brendan O’Hara)
Debra Marquart reads from her memoir “The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere,” a collection of short stories about growing up in North Dakota. (photo by Brendan O’Hara)

On Thursday, Jan. 28 the first VOICES Reading of the semester commenced with a reading by a woman Professor Karen Anderson described as “talented in so many genres [that it] makes the rest of us who only do one genre very jealous.” This woman was poet, author, musician, and Professor Debra Marquart.

Marquart is a professor of English at Iowa State University has written two books of poetry is the singer of a band named The Bone People, and is currently working on her first novel.

She is the winner of numerous awards, including the 2007 PEN USA Creative Nonfiction Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Shelby Foote Nonfiction Prize from the Faulkner Society, the Elle Lettres Award from Elle Magazine, and a National Endowment for the Arts Prose Fellowship.

Marquart is an old friend of St. Mary’s professors Jennifer and Andrew Cognard-Black.

Jennifer Cognard-Black was the one to introduce Marquart and began by retelling the audience of times spent with Marquart as a graduate student at Iowa State University.

“We knew we were in the presence of greatness,” said Cognard-Black.

Marquart began her reading by joking with the audience that since she has spent most of her life in the Midwest she was not used to waking up to a sunset reflecting off the water.

After her introduction, Marquart began to read from her memoir “The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere”, a collection of stories depicting what it was like for Marquart as a young girl growing up in Fargo, North Dakota.
Marquart told the audience that she actually began writing this memoir in 1991 when she was living in Ames, Iowa.

“I began [writing the memoir] when I was writing a story for a workshop as a graduate student,” said Marquart. “I always thought I was born to write in the wrong place.”

Marquart‘s readings where full of colorful language that explored the senses of a small town world.

“She described her young, rural life with such vibrancy and honesty that you could nearly feel the heat and sweat from the farms she was recounting –I especially liked her description of the cow pies!” said junior and President of the English Club, Mary Walters.

The first reading entitled “Farm Boys” depicted the young boys and girls in her town and the passage possessed an erotic sense of language and imagery. “…this was no Little House on the Prairie,” said  Marquart, “…we were loose girls looking for untroubled ways.”

All of Marquart’s readings describe a specific aspect of small town life in the Midwest.

“One of the things I wanted to do was not just write a memoir but [to write] a memoir of a place,” said Marquart.

“Marquart’s words vibrated through the room, just as her music did,” said Walters

While most of Marquart’s stories had either an undercurrent of humor, or were outright humorous, a story about her father and his death while she was working as a roadie possessed a tone of melancholy.

One line from her story is her questioning the interaction between the dead and the living, “Do the dead ever leave us? Do they ever sleep?”

Her readings all possess a very rhythmic quality to them, some fast, some somber, but it all seems to depend on what type of mood she wishes to envoke in the audience. “Her stories were so full of detailed imagery that it made her reading them aloud really captivating,” said sophomore Elena Gross.

At the end of her reading Marquart, an avid musician, pulled out her guitar and played three songs for the audience, two of which she wrote herself.

The next VOICES Reading will take place on Thursday, March 11 in DPC.

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