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Marquart, Debra

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Comments from the author about writing:
I didn’t set out to be a writer.  I set out to be a musician, a plan that was amended one night in August, 1980 when my road band lost all of its equipment in a truck fire—fifty-thousand dollars worth of equipment, and no insurance, because who would be crazy enough to insure a rock band?

In the hours following the truck fire, we experienced the loss in its entirety, sitting in a crying circle with our soot-covered road crew, who fortunately had all survived the crash, and visiting the site to see the incinerated truck lying on its side in the ditch looking like the burnt-out skeleton of a dragonfly.  We sifted through the rubble for something recognizable, but found only a few dozen circular speaker magnets from our guitar amps and PA columns strewn about the scorched periphery, dropped wherever the fire had burned them free from their more ephemeral housings.  Apparently, aside from the axle and motor of the truck, the iron speaker magnets were the only other thing made of materials strong enough to survive the fire.

It was astounding then to realize that all those solid plastic, fiberglass, and metal things we had used to play heavy metal—microphones, power amps, drums, cymbals, guitars, most of the 24’ truck itself—had been rendered unrecognizable, reduced to ashes and charred bits by the hot gasoline fire.  In the weeks and months that followed we felt the sting again of each individual loss—our 24 channel mixing board, our effects rack, amplifiers, synthesizers, keyboards, all gone—as we made the list of what had burned and contemplated what it would cost to replace each item.

During this time while we were stalled out, I holed up in my basement efficiency apartment that I rented for seventy-five dollars a month on the north side of Fargo.  Normally, I’d spend an average of four nights a month there, laying-over between gigs.  Now, I had long days and long, sleepless nights to walk a circle in the carpet of that small room.  With no money coming in, I didn’t even have the means to distract or anesthetize myself.  I kept asking myself how I had landed here—one night I had gone to bed the lead singer for a fairly successful progressive heavy metal band, and the next morning I had woken up, a broke, hoarse-voiced college dropout.

It felt as if someone had bored a very deep, narrow hole in the ground and plunked me down into it.  I had nothing to do with my hours but turn in the darkness and stare up at the pinhole of light on the surface.  I was free to claw at the unscalable walls all I wanted, but eventually I’d have to face reality—the losses I had sustained on the material plane were unrecoverable.  I was twenty-four years old.  I felt claustrophobic in my own life.

I won’t pretend to know how I picked up a pen and a piece of paper.  I know now from talking with other writers that their impulse to craft language to render experience often arose out of a loss.  But somewhere in those hours it had occurred to me that while I had lost everything on the material plane, the idea of those things was still alive and palpable in me.  I had the words for them.  I felt the separation from that life already and language had stepped in to bridge the gulf.  I’d been reciting to myself sentences and descriptions and stories about the strange people I’d known and the odd things that had happened on the road.

Writing it down must have been an absent-minded choice, the pen I reached for must have been the only thing around that didn’t cost money.  I didn’t even have a desk; I had a wooden cable spool I’d recovered from a ditch, which I’d turned on its side to make a table.  I had a candle on the table, so I lit it.  I stared at the tongue of flame for a long while in the dark room as it weaved and dipped on its wick.

“Okay,” I addressed the fire, “you got my attention.”  Here was the minor ambassador of the conflagration that had destroyed my life. “Now what were you trying to tell me?”

And then I sat in the darkness for hours and did what musicians are trained to do.  I listened—for the cue to begin singing, for harmonies, for blending.  I listened for audible signs of what would happen next.  This was the beginning of what I know to be my life as a writer, and I mean to say here that I’ve tried all these years to keep listening in this way, to drag down into written language the words and phrases I would have preferred to sing, but am happy now to write.

I hope there’s still evidence of singing in my writing, even though I have spread out to other subjects.  And I hope there’s evidence of fire, a feeling that my sentences burned to be written—that they are forged from the strongest materials, and that they are capable of surviving any rendering power, like those charred iron speaker magnets we found intact that August morning among the wreckage.

Literary awards received and date received:

  • "Editors' Choice" recommendation, New York Times Book Review, 8 August 2006, for The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.
  • Elle Magazine, "Elles Lettres" Award, August 2006 Pick for The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.
  • Elle Magazine, Honorable Mention, "Grand Prix, 2006" Award for The Horizontal World: Growing UP Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.
  • Pushcart Prize Nomination, To the Woman who Tore the Word Husband from the Oxford English Dictionary. Nominated by Vince Gotera, Editor, North American Review. 2005.
  • Joseph S. Height Award, for The Most Famous Person from North Dakota, reprinted in The Heritage Review. Germans-from-Russia Heritage Society. Awarded at GRHS Convention, Portland, Oregon. 12-16 July, 2006.
  • Mid-American Review, Nonfiction Award, for Agricultural Mysticism: Twenty-One Fragments on Desire. 2003.
  • Shelby Foote Prize for the Essay. William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. The Pirates Alley, Faulkner Society, New Orleans, LA. 2003.
  • John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Award for Pilgrim Soul. Crab Orchard Review, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL. 2003.
  • Lush Triumphant Nonfiction Award for How to Enjoy a Nice Life in the Country. SubTerrain Magazine, Anvil Press, Vancouver, Canada. 2003.
  • Personal Essay Award for Sustainable Agriculture. Writers Digest, F & W Publications, Cincinnati, OH. 2003.
  • Pushcart Prize Nomination for essay, Between Earth & Sky. New Letters, 2002.
  • Early Achievement in Research Award, Iowa State University. 2002-2003.
  • Walter E. Dakin Fiction Fellowship. Sewanee Writers Conference. University of the South, Sewanee, TN. 17 19, July 2001.
  • Citation in Notable Essays of 2001, Best American Essays, for Things Not Seen in a Rear View Mirror.
  • 2001 Pulitzer Prize Nomination, New Rivers Press, for The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories.
  • 2001 Pushcart Prize, for Things Not Seen in a Rear View Mirror.
  • 2000 Pearl Poetry Award, Pearl Editions, for poetry collection, From Sweetness.
  • 2000 Pushcart Prize Nomination, New Letters, for Things Not Seen in a Rear View Mirror.
  • Citation in Notable Essays of 1999, Best American Essays, for On Lost & Crazy Sisters.
  • 1999 Nonfiction Award, New Letters, for Things Not Seen in a Rear View Mirror. 1999.
  • Headwaters Prize, New Rivers Press, for short fiction collection, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories. 1999.
  • Citation in Notable Essays of 1998, Best American Essays, for Failures of the Heart. 1999.
  • University Early Achievement in Teaching Award, Iowa State University. 1998-1999.
  • ISU Women Award. Faculty Womens Network. 1998-1999.
  • 1998 Nonfiction Award, New Letters, for On Lost & Crazy Sisters. 1998.
  • 1998 Capricorn Fiction Award, The Writers Voice, Westside YMCA, New York, NY, for short fiction collection, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories.

Book Types: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry Collection, Short Story Collection

Audience Types: Adult

Genres: Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Jazz-Poetry Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Jazz-Poetry Essays

Are you willing to do programs for schools, libraries, or other groups? Yes

If you are willing to do programs, will you charge a fee? Yes

Author Web site URL:

Mailing Address:

Debra Marquart
Department of English
Iowa State University
206 Ross Hall
Ames, IA 50011

E-mail Address:

Phone Number: (515) 294-3173 -- office

County: Story

Books By This Author

  • Everything's a Verb: Poems, New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1995
  • The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories, New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2001
  • From Sweetness: Poems, Pearl Editions, Long Beach, CA, 2002
  • The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, CounterPoint Books, New York, NY, 2007.

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