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Exploring the art of prose

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Author: Eliana Ramage


Author’s Note

I was twenty-two years old when I wrote the first draft of this story about a tribal council meeting. By the time I was twenty-three, I knew what I’d written was setting, not plot, so I added an affair. I’d written the story in present tense and its concerns were here and now and what next. The affair was so central to this story that I wrote three stories that followed it, the drive home and the long summer and Steph doing everything she can to keep her family together.

Seven years later, I wrote it again. By then, I’d lived enough ends and beginnings of my own to know there was much to be uncovered in this first of many ends for Steph.

This wasn’t meant to be a story about an affair. To a young Steph, this is a story of the end of the world. Things break and come back together. On her first visit to Cherokee homelands, Steph starts to consider what her tribe once was or could have been. This is secondary to the breaking of her family, the shame she feels at her herself and where she comes from, and the loss of the dream that she’d be instantly recognized away from home as special and wanted.

I rewrote this story only when I knew and understood the breaking and unbreaking of worlds. That the family world and the science world and the tribal world had already broken before Steph showed up on the scene, that they would again, that things break and we put them back together, that it’s just what we do.

In the rewriting of this story I broke more things: I added the trip to Duke, and the missed ceremony, and Steph’s isolation. I switched to a retrospective voice, because I needed an older Steph who could take us somewhere safe in the far-off future where the end of this world was rebuilt into something good. But she holds the voice of her younger self, too, and takes seriously the sadness of that old loss.

In my work with young people, and when I’m writing young characters like Steph, I always try to keep those two voices close to me: the truth of what they feel now, and what none of us can imagine is coming.

 


ELIANA RAMAGE is a Cherokee Nation citizen from Nashville, where she works with youth in college access at a local nonprofit. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2018, and holds an MA from Bar-Ilan University and a BA from Dartmouth College. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Baltimore Review, the Beloit Fiction Journal, and the anthology All the Women in My Family Sing. She is at work on her first novel.