Other People’s Shoes: Fiction, Empathy, and the Writing of Marie Manilla
"Souls need no finery. Wounds will do."
Marie Manilla grew up in West Virginia, and like many young people yearned to see the world beyond Appalachia. After college, she moved to Texas, for what she thought was another culture and another life, working seven years as a graphic designer and writing some. She found that even half a continent away from West Virginia’s country roads, people were more alike than different and different was usually the same. After getting her MFA and returning to West Virginia, she began to write seriously, initially considering herself a short story writer and publishing in a range of journals and exploring what she calls "those pivotal moments in characters’ lives that forever change them for better or worse"—the secret to what makes a good short story. Like Silas House, characterization is Manilla’s true forte, though her writing also possesses a wonderful joi d’vivre and energy that allows her to entertain even as she tackles the thorniest of issues and profoundest of themes. Manilla is a product of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has evinced a prodigious talent over the years. Her short story collection, Still Life with Plums (2010), was finalist for both the Weatherford Award and ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. Two years later she published Shrapnel (2012), which takes us into the consciousness of a transplanted old Texan, Bing Butler, whom Manilla somehow makes endearing for her readers. Despite his narrow and intolerant attitudes, Bing discovers when he moves from Texas to West Virginia both the importance of family and the necessity of tempering judgement of others whom he finds more like than different from himself. Shrapnel won the Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. The extraordinary success and rave reviews of Manilla’s third book, The Patron Saint of Ugly, established her as a literary force to be reckoned with and won for her the Weatherford Award in 2014. Exploring her own Italian roots, The Patron Saint of Ugly has been called a "blend of magical realism, Southern Gothic, and Sicilian malocchio." Manilla’s fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Portland Review, Kestrel, Yamasee Review, among others. Her stories have been Nelson Algren finalists and have won for her the Lawrence Foundation Award for Fiction. Today Marie Manilla lives with her husband Don Primerano in her hometown of Huntington. She has taught at Marshall University and was a visiting faculty member in the MFA Program at West Virginia Wesleyan College.