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Q&A with author Melanie Hoffert

Melanie Hoffert, a Concordia graduate, released her memoir “Prairie Silence” last year. On April 5, her book received the Minnesota Book Award for the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category. Hoffert currently works for Teach for America, a nonprofit, but her book is still a prominent part of her life.

What did you do after graduating from Concordia?

Truth be told, I really wanted to become a writer. I was an English writing major so I loved writing and that was really sort of my aspiration to do something with my writing. But I also was interested in figuring out how I could use my writing in other ways besides writing a book. Then overtime I got my Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing and so I went the writing path and through that road.

Did you want to be a writer even when you were younger?

You know, I think it was. When I was really young I was creative, I liked writing and I kept a journal but I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. Even when I was older I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. It was just something I really loved to do, the creative process through which I expressed myself. So I didn’t really have in my mind when I was a little kid like “Oh some day I’ll be a writer,” but I loved writing projects in school. Even when I was in the third grade I remember writing a poem and just working really hard to make it say exactly what I wanted it to say.

How did you decide to write a memoir?

Actually I think it was being at Concordia and taking creative writing classes from Scott Olsen where I started to really explore writing creative non-fiction and that became, over time, where I was comfortable. Writing on reflections on life and my observations of the world around me as opposed to fiction. So I don’t think I knew at that time that I wanted to write a memoir I just knew that creative non-fiction was a genre that was really interesting to me and I got a lot of pleasure from. Over many years I developed a bunch of different essays and then finally saw that I had a body of work that could actually work together as a book.

Why did you pick the title “Prairie Silence?”

That title was actually suggested by my editor at Beacon Press after she read the book and I think that it made a lot of sense to me too because “Prairie Silence” encapsulates a lot of what I’m writing about in terms of the silence of the land which becomes a metaphor in telling the story. The silence of the people that I grew up with in my childhood and the silence that I carried all through my life basically about being different. I think it was just an all encompassing title that really named different pieces of what I was trying to do with the book.

What was the feeling like when you won the Minnesota Book Award?

I was happy when my book became a finalist. I honestly didn’t imagine that it would prevail as a winner. It was exhilarating and thrilling. I found out at the awards. It’s a venue where they go up and present the award and you don’t know if you win. So I sat there just being okay with whatever outcome but when I heard my name it was super, super exciting. And shocking honestly.

What comes with being the winner of a Minnesota Book Award?

It’s a huge honor. Minnesota has such a vibrant writing community. There’s so many writers and there’s been so many amazing writers who have won the book award in different categories over the years — writers that I look up to. So for me the biggest thing that comes with it is just the recognition and the honor of being in the company of other really great writers.

What’s next for you?

I have been focusing on short form essays. Just really writing ideas that I’ve had for awhile that I’m finally taking the time to sort of get out of my head. In terms of a longer form project, I’m not working on anything at present but I have a few ideas I want to develop over the next few months so I can start to dig in and get going on a second book.

Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue writing?

My main advice would be to simply write until your fingers want to fall off. I think that Its really hard to get caught up in thinking about an outcome in terms of “I want to get this thing published.” I think both the joy and the journey of writing is what will lead you to eventual publication. Spend a bunch of time just honing the craft of writing, writing really bad stuff and whittling it down to really good stuff and eventually finding your way to having a solid piece you can send into the world. That’s the first piece of advice. And the second piece of advice is to read a ton. I think more than anything reading both inspires and forms my writing. Writing until your fingers want to fall off and read until your eyeballs are strained.

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