THE BOOK: Living on the Borderlines: Stories
PUBLISHED IN: 2019.
THE AUTHOR: Melissa Michal
THE EDITOR: Aleya Canada
THE PUBLISHER: The Feminist Press. The Feminist Press publishes books that ignite movements and social transformation. Celebrating our legacy, we lift up insurgent and marginalized voices from around the world to build a more just future.
SUMMARY: Both on and off the rez, characters contend with identity as contemporary Haudenosaunee peoples. In Living on the Borderlines, intergenerational memory and trauma slip into everyday life: a teenager struggles to understand her grandmother’s silences, a man contemplates what it means to preserve tradition in the wake of the “disappearing Indian” myth, and an older woman challenges her town’s prejudice while uniting an unlikely family.
With these stories, debut writer Melissa Michal weaves together an understated and contemplative collection exploring what it means to be Indigenous, which introduces contemporary Haudenosaunee women who grow up in the city or small towns and are affected by intergenerational trauma. Its sixteen stories examine relationships informed or split wide open by the trauma, as well as the way Haudenosaunee women break destructive stereotypical and racist representations of American Indians from popular culture.
THE BACK STORY: I wrote some of these stories over a series of several years. I was in a PhD program at the time. They were something to turn my mind away from my critical work and to creatively work through the issues of trauma and genocide that I was so focused on. The summer I was finishing my dissertation, I saw an advertisement for the Louise Meriwhether first book prize. I decided to put down working on my novel and to finish my short story collection in order to submit it by the deadline. I had a month and a half to write 17, 500 words to meet the required word count. I never thought that I would make it further through the contest’s decision process. I merely treated it as a deadline to at least finish the collection. I wrote 800 words nearly each day and also went back and revised a story already written each week to make the deadline. When the press notified me that I was a finalist, I was floored and quite happy. Although I was not the winner of this prize, I sent a thank you e-mail to the press when the winner was announced. They immediately e-mailed me back desiring to publish my book anyway. I was truly elated. Always send athank you e-mail!
WHY THIS TITLE?: This title derives from the title story/ first story. But that wasn’t the only reason I chose it. As Indigenous peoples, like the story, we are constantly forced inside boxes, or there are borders drawn by outsiders defining our living spaces and our identities for us. Borderlines are metaphorical of what causes much of our trauma. That title story also reveals our resilience, which I truly hope the collection also illuminates. We may have these lines forced upon us, but we are who we are anyway and we can break through them.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? My book focuses on my Haudenosaunee community off of the reservation and the after effects of Indigenous boarding school periods. These periods saw many Indigenous children kidnapped from their homes (or families lied to about the education to take place or when their children would return) and taken to schools far away, forced to speak only English, sometimes beaten or verbally abused, and live there until they either ran away or were 18. Not many books include my community, let alone lead female characters discussing the boarding schools. It’s important to see Indigenous experiences from strong female perspectives, as well as relationships with grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. I also include some speculative stories which see the world through Indigenous ways of interacting with bending story format which include alternate universes, ancestor interactions, and creation stories. This collection would be good for markets dealing with lyric flash fiction, women and gender studies, Haudenosaunee studies, ethnic studies, slipstream, Rochester, NY, Indigenous boarding schools, and trauma studies.
Susan Power, author of Sacred Wilderness said that“The stories in Living on the Borderlines cross bloodlines, heart lines, and cultural lines, powerfully charting what it is to be human in a world that works to divide us.”
“The familial relationships here are strong and tender, no matter who they bond: long-lost siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, spouses and friends, the dead and the living. Melissa Michal has created potent stories around all of them, with disturbing and beautiful elements all at once. All of the characters, even in the shortest stories, are full of depth and nuance, making this one of the more underrated short story collections of the year.” — Sarah Nielson, Literary Hub.
“Living on the Borderlines is a beautiful window into understanding Indigenous worldviews. Indigenous cultures think primarily in terms of space, and Western Europeans think in terms of time. Yet, Indigenous stories sharing original wisdom is how the first peoples of this land survived despite countless attempts to eradicate our race, culture, and way of life. This book is an unapologetic contemporary perspective of the truth of healing through Indigenous storytelling.”—Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy.
“Living on the Borderlines is a hauntingly beautiful collection of stories of contemporary women and girls who live in the spaces between the reservations and traditional Indigenous territories and rural and urban communities stretching across western New York to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and beyond, to the island of Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia. Despite the family choices, personal losses, intergenerational and historical traumas that separate Melissa Michal’s characters across time and space, both they and their stories are woven together by their ancestral bloodlines, spirits and voices that dance and dream, spelunk and sing them from the past, through the present and into a resurgent future. Michal’s debut is a stunning achievement.” –Nikki Dragone, Visiting Assistant Professor at Dickinson College
AUTHOR PROFILE: Melissa Michal is of Seneca, Welsh, and English descent. She is a fiction writer, essayist, photographer, and a literature and creative writing professor. She loves helping young writers find that they too can write. Her PhD in literature from Arizona State University focused on education and representation of Indigenous histories and literatures in curriculum. She strives to develop lesson plans that are inclusive and work students may not yet have encountered. Michal herself didn’t experience reading any American Indian authors in the education system until many years later in a Master’s level class with an Indigenous professor. She never wants her students to experience the feeling of erasure this caused her. Both her creative and critical work also seek to make visible underrepresented experiences in ways which readers can connect, understand, and empathize with. This is why it makes a huge difference to her when she hears from readers directly! Her short story collection, Living Along the Borderlines (2019), out with Feminist Press, was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether first book prize. Her first novel, Along the Hills, and non-fiction lyric essay collection, Broken Blood, are both finished. She is excited to be working on a new dystopian novel where women and Two-Spirit folx must bring balance to their communities. Michal lives in Providence, RI and spends her time beach combing and learning from the land.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I truly hope that readers find in this collection a sense of the differences of what it actually means to be American Indian, and specifically Haudenosaunee. We are not the Hollywood Indian and my goal is always to wander the multiple different types of journeys we take as humans who happen to be Indigenous. I also hope that readers read more Indigenous literatures by Indigenous authors as I can’t possibly be representative of all American Indians, let alone all Haudenosaunee peoples. But we too often get relegated to the stiff, unmoving image of us. Let these stories shake those images to their core.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Please see the sample on Amazon, or other linked pieces on my webpage.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: www.melissamichalwriter.net; twitter: @melissamichal16