By Dominique Weldon
Award-winning author, Dantiel W. Moniz, visits the Indianapolis writing community to share her work with fellow literature lovers.
Many American writers choose to reside in cities with thriving literary communities, cities such as Portland, Seattle, and New York City. That’s because these locations contain writing centers, publishing houses, bookstores, and reading series — all must-haves for working writers. Many of these literary cities are located on either America’s East or West coast; however, it is important to note that the Midwest also has bustling artistic communities, and one of these communities is in Indianapolis, Indiana. Writers and readers of the greater Indianapolis area can attend writing classes through the Indiana Writers Center, shop at local bookstores like Loudmouth Books, and join local book clubs through the local library. However, one of the best aspects of the Indy literary community is the Butler University’s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series, which invites best-selling authors to the city.
The Delbrook Vistiting Writers Series launched in 1986 and is nearing its fortieth year in operation. Every year, up to twelve writers to visit Butler University’s campus, and these writers fully interact with the community by meeting students during both classroom visits and dinner. The writers then read their work to the public. The reading series has invited world-renown writers to Indianapolis, including classic authors like Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Furthermore, the series also hosts well-loved contemporary authors, such as Hanif Abdurraqib, Emily St. John Mandel, and Carmen Maria Machado. The lineup is always impressive, and one of the latest writers to visit Indianapolis was Dantiel W. Moniz.
The name Dantiel W. Moniz may be familiar to many. Some know her as Professor Moniz, for she teaches creative writing at Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her MFA in Fiction. Others may have read her short story collection Milk Blood Heat, which was published in 2021 to wide acclaim. The book received several awards and nominations, including being shortlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the Pen/Robert W. Bingham Prize. The publication also led to Moniz receiving a 5 Under 35 award, an honor that recognizes impactful young authors and their debut work. Even if you haven’t read Milk Blood Heat, there’s a chance you’ve encountered her fiction elsewhere, for her work has been published in The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, and Tin House. Although, it’s no surprise that Moniz’s fiction has received so many accolades. From her use of lush language to the complexity of her characters, Moniz’s work is absolutely captivating, which is surely why she was invited to the Delbrook reading series. As a huge fun of Moniz’s work, I was thrilled when she was announced as an upcoming guest in the series, and I was eager to see her in person and to write about the experience.
The reading occurred on October 25 and was located at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University. Schrott is a medium-sized auditorium typically used for music, dance, and theatre events, and the space was filled with students, professors, and many members of the community. After waiting, a graduate student took the microphone to shared a praise-filled introduction and welcomed Dantiel W. Moniz to the stage. When Moniz reached the podium, she warmly greeted the crowd with a welcoming, “Hey ya’ll.”
That warmth was present every time she addressed the audience. In fact, she began the event by chatting with the room, making the space both intimate and safe before reading from her own work. She mentioned how difficult it is to write when terrible things occur in the world; however, she shared that, “It can feel terrible to be a writer when the world is on fire, but humans have always told stories.” It was reassuring to remember that humans enjoy not only telling stories, but that the need for storytelling will continue.
After addressing the crowd, Moniz began to read. She shared two separate pieces of writing, the first being a short story titled “Thicker Than Water” from Milk Blood Heat. “Thicker Than Water” centers around two siblings and their strained relationship. Their mother forces them to take a road trip together to spread their late father’s ashes. During this trip, the siblings’ past and the fissure between them is revealed. The story contains evocative language that transports readers into the narrative world, and a moment that clearly illustrates the language’s impact is halfway through the story, when the two siblings connect while reminiscing about the past.
“Remember. Remember. Remember. The black moccasin in the community pool. The P.E teacher’s false eyebrows. Leana Crosby and her pink glitter thong. This part is easy, time breaking open to slurp us smoothly into the simpler past. Where Lucas and I had bitten and scratched and punched and kicked and tricked and teased each other and still we went to sleep side by side” (Moniz 172).
Moniz read only half of the story; therefore, audience members needed to purchase Milk Blood Heat to read the rest. What was an exciting surprise was that Moniz then shared part of an unpublished novel. She mentioned she’d been writing this novel on and off for thirteen years and that it still needed more work before completion. After about a total of thirty minutes, Moniz finished reading and received large applause from the audience.
The remainder of the event was dedicated to a Q&A, in which audience members could ask Moniz questions. The room was silent for several moments, as if everyone was momentarily intimidated by her presence; however, hands soon rose around the room. During the Q&A, Moniz gave concrete writing advice while conversing with the audience. One practical piece of advice that she shared was to jot down writing ideas and moments of inspiration on our phones. She mentioned that most people don’t carry a pen and paper with them; therefore, using a phone’s notes app is helpful because these notes will typically be with you at all times. Moniz has a folder in her own notes app solely for writing to ensure she doesn’t worry about lacking pen and paper with inspiration strikes.
However, one of the most impactful things that Moniz shared was to remember the joy of writing. She reminded us that when we started our writing journeys, it was probably an enjoyable experience; therefore, we should try to rekindle that joy if it has dimmed, and clearly, this is something that Moniz believes in. After all, Milk Blood Heat is a short story collection, and writers are often told to avoid writing collections because they are considered less marketable than novels. In regard to this, Moniz told the audience that she writes short stories because she enjoys them and said, “What is people’s deal with saying short stories are a lesser form?” She told the audience that she appreciated how her agent accepted her as a short-story writer and that all writers deserve to have an understanding support system.
In the end, Dantiel W. Moniz couldn’t have said it better. While writing can be stressful for many, we should remember that we chose to write because storytelling is both engaging and necessary. There is a sense of wonder in sharing our stories and creativity with others, a wonder we should never lose.
Moniz, Dantiel W. Milk Blood Heat. New York City: Grove Press, 2021. Print.
About the Writer:
Dominique Weldon is a Black biracial writer based in Indiana, IN. She is a first-generation college graduate of the University of Iowa and received her MFA in Fiction from Butler University. Her work appears in Lover’s Eye Press and DarkWinter Literary Magazine. Currently, she reads fiction for Split Lip Magazine and writes for Erato Magazine. Find her online at www.dominiquekweldon.com