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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  Shelle Stormoe

 

about the author

         

Shelle Barton Stormoe earned a MA in English Literature from Kansas State University and a MFA in Fiction Writing from Colorado State University. Her essays, interviews, book reviews, blog posts and journalism have appeared on The Writer's Center Blog, River Teeth, Divide, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Tales from the South, The Arkansas Times and World Ark Magazine. She won a 2005 Arkansas Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship for the short story. She currently teaches Writing courses at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Little Rock with her husband.

   
 

about the work

 

“Marguerite's Monument” is a testament to being patient with a piece of writing, no matter how hopeless it may seem after the first draft. I started writing the essay as a MFA student, well before I was ready to finish it. Marguerite, the primary character in the essay, had died only a few months before. I felt a strong impulse to try to make sense of her story. I turned in a shorter version of the essay to a nonfiction workshop. Though it got generally positive feedback, the readers felt like there was something indefinable missing. No amount of revision seemed to turn it into something I felt did justice to Marguerite. I put the essay away in a file drawer.

It is now six years later and I am working on a completely separate project in which I write about the social pressures related to religion in a small Bible Belt town. This piece sparked a memory, and I started to think about Marguerite again. I dug up the old essay I'd written about her and reread it. I knew that it was time to finish it, and that I was ready to do it. The difference was a perspective I had no access to at the time I wrote the first draft. It painted Marguerite's history obsession as something bordering on deviant. From the outside, from a reporting perspective, it does appear that way. I realized that if I shifted the perspective to consider her motivations, she became much more human.

I stopped looking at Marguerite as an oddity that bordered on historical charlatan and started looking at her as a fellow writer, struggling with the right way to make the history of a backwater place interesting to the rest of the world. Marguerite wanted her stories to have emotional weight that went beyond relating the contents of historical documents. She wanted there to be a statement of some sort that turned little old Dover into the setting for grand triumphs. Like Marguerite, I do become a little obsessed with my subjects. I think all people who write nonfiction do that to do some degree. The subject, to the writer, seems infinitely important, even when it might not seem that way to others. How does a writer resolve that conflict? How does a writer give emotional weight to a story that might otherwise lack it? If you are Marguerite, you turn the stories into romances.

I also began to understand something about why we write history, even personal history, the way we do. The truth is complicated and never completely knowable. There is only closure to history's stories when we are in a position of retrospect. Even then, closure is still entirely dependent on our points of view according to our own experience. History is interpretation. It is almost impossible to present historical facts in a way that entirely avoids objectifying someone or something.

The actually construction of “Marguerite's Monument” came sort of organically, but I think it accurately reflects the process I went through trying to understand Marguerite. It starts with an imagined scene, cobbled together as best I could from what I knew about the day the Sequoyah's salt pot was installed in Dover square. I started with this scene because it allowed me to immediately determine the urgency of the story. It's not about Sequoyah, it's not about how to write history, it's about Marguerite's dreams. After I established that significance, I was able to step back and mimic the actual methods I used to understand that---asking people for gossip about her, researching Sequoyah, researching the importance of salt during his lifetime, going back to talk to Marguerite in person, realizing that what I found had nothing to do with Sequoyah at all.

   
 

Shelle Stormoe on the web

 

www.deadmule.com/essays/2010/04/shelle-stormoe-great-smoky-mountains-1978/

   
   

 

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