Home, love and faith. Three small words that hold an infinite amount of meaning. Three small words that Melanie Hoffert explores at length in her intricately crafted nonfiction book “Prairie Silence.”
“Prairie Silence,” which was released earlier this month, is an honest look at life on the prairie of North Dakota – how it shapes and, at the same time, silences its children. Hoffert details her journey as a young, gay woman in rural North Dakota in this raw memoir, regaling readers with everything from her first sexual experience to her return to the prairie.
Hoffert, a Concordia grad, has followed a winding path to get to where she is today. And, now that she’s here, she’s mortified by the fact that the Fargo Forum recently printed a large photo of her head next to a review of her book.
“There will be a hat and scarf the rest of the day!” she exclaimed upon seeing the newspaper, burying her head in her hands.
A sweet and endearing woman, Hoffert has all the confidence and ease of a well-seasoned writer. However, in her mind, the insecurities of her past and the insecurities that are inherent in all true writers will never fully disappear.
“Even though I loved it,” she said, “I didn’t think I was good enough to be a writer.”
Hoffert described the pain of writer’s block (“Writer’s block is a problem that can be solved by finding universal qualities”) and the passion she felt for her work (“It rose up in me sometimes and I just had to write”). She explained that the smaller she made her writing, the less painful it was for her when she was consumed by work and unable to write. She sighed with relief when she finally realized that her job and her passion had become congruent.
In “Prairie Silence,” Hoffert confronts dark insecurities from her childhood – and from her adulthood – with grace. She said that, when facing those defining and painful moments, the only advice she could offer was to write through them and to write honestly.
“Everything has been written about. There is nothing new to say. But not in my voice, so I try to write beyond that,” she said. “Follow your voice and tell your unique story.”
The cover of the book contains a photo of Hoffert’s real home on the prairie and those three words: home, love and faith.
The idea of “home” is one that is widely speculated on throughout Hoffert’s memoir. As she aims to reconcile her sexuality (a word Hoffert doesn’t like to use because of its limitations) and the overwhelming silence that she feels pressing down on her, Hoffert returns to her childhood home for a month.
“I think (the journey) started with how I was getting further and further away and craving it more and more,” she said. “Home means to sort of look inside yourself to who you are.”
Likewise, Hoffert struggles with the silences in her life throughout the entire book – the silences of her small-town home, the silences of her family and friends and, ultimately, the silences of herself.
“Silence was important because it was in three aspects of the book,” she said. “Me, the people that I grew up with and the landscape.”
Despite this, Hoffert took her own advice and wrote through the silence. In fact, she wrote 248 pages through the silence. Although she describes moments she had, sitting in classrooms at Concordia, in which writing a book of any sort seemed impossible, Hoffert remains adamant that one should never stop writing.
“Start with a very concrete detail. It’s the only way to write things that resonate and can grow,” she said. “Don’t think of yourself as a limited reservoir. Things will continue to come and be beautiful and well up in you.”