Move over, Minnesota writers: N.M. Kelby is back in town. Or at least, she’s on her way back. Right now, she and her boxes full of books are probably somewhere between here and her native Florida, where she moved to in 2001 after living in the Twin Cities for 20 years.
Every time she came back to the Twin Cities on a book tour — which has been fairly regularly, since she’s published seven books during that time — she got a little more homesick for this place.
“Nobody loves and respects writers like Minnesotans. Here it seems to be understood that a writer’s job is to illuminate the heart and spirit of the people — and that creates a tender bond. I still remember one May Day parade with Meridel LeSueur carried high above everyone’s heads in a flowered throne. You just don’t see that kind of thing in Boca Raton,” she says.
Kelby attended the creative writing program at Hamline University in the late ’90s. Her graduate thesis was a short novel about nuns during World War II called “In the Company of Angels.”
“I can remember my committee saying that it wouldn’t sell. It was too edgy,” she says. Six weeks after graduation, it did sell, for six figures. Since then, it’s been one book, and one major arts grant, after another.
Now she’s celebrating two new books, a nonfiction craft book, “The Constant Art of Being a Writer,” and a collection of short stories, “A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts,” which is out on Minnesota’s own Borealis Press (Minnesota Historical Society Press), even though her other publishers are big New York houses. The connection came about in New York, though.
“I was staffing our table at the 2008 NYC AWP Conference, which drew in nearly 8,000 students, writers, publishers. We had recently published Kevin Kling’s best-seller, ‘The Dog Says How,’ and a gregarious redhead walked over and said, ‘Hey, I love Kevin Kling.’ OK, actually she first said, ‘Hey, I’ve seen Kevin Kling naked.’ She had worked with Kevin in the theater here in the Twin Cities,” said Pam McClanahan, who struck up a conversation with Kelby that lasted for months, included the exchange of a few stories, starting with “Jubilation,” which Joanne Woodward read on NPR’s “Selected Shorts,” and culminated with the story collection coming home to Minnesota a few months in advance of its writer.
“To me, Minnesota writers combine the emotional and physical landscape of our state to create their life’s work,” Kelby says. “I write with a Midwestern heart — a tender, bruised, sloppy and unwieldy old thing.”
So here she is, and here’s where she belongs.