Interview with Marilyn June Coffey
By G.K. Fralin
“As we call your numbers,” Sister Ursula said, “please step forward to claim your child. Examine the child we selected for you. If it’s satisfactory take it to your home and treat it as you would your own flesh and blood.” Marilyn June Coffey reading from Mail-Order Kid. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK5hNAKEdPM
What a glimpse into the eyes and emotions of a child in flux. The coldness of the nun comes through Marilyn’s voice as I listened to her read. Marilyn wrote this honest biography of a girl displaced from New York to Kansas on the Orphan Train.
Marilyn’s works have won awards and recognition as she pioneered her career as a female author refusing to bow to the acceptable gentility expected of women.
This is an interview with bestselling author, educator, poet and fellow member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild: Marilyn June Coffey. I ask Marilyn about her latest bestselling book
I’m so pleased with the acceptance of my MAIL-ORDER KID, Glenda. Book clubs, in particular, seem to love it. And the National Orphan Train Complex gave me its Special President’s Award.
Marilyn, I am bouncing in my seat with excitement that you have agreed to this interview. There are many reasons including all your awards and accomplishments. Although, for me it’s because I listened to you read from your book MAIL-ORDER KID. You made me feel like I was sitting in a group around your feet on the floor engrossed in your story. All I had to do was close my eyes and listen.
Glenda, I’m so pleased with your response to my reading. I love to read. I studied how to do it when I was in New York City in the mid-1970s reading my poetry. I took lessons in diaphragmatic breathing so I could control my voice.
I did ask for an interview, so I should ask some
questions. I am anxious to ask questions, but I cannot deny my joy that I know you even if only through the banter of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild forum, and it’s events.
I’ve noticed others have written about the Orphan Trains, but your book does not focus on the Orphan Trains. You chose to do a biography of someone who lived it. What prompted you to focus on the girl Theresa Martin?
Other writers, including Marilyn Holt, had written so well about the orphan train movement that I didn’t see the need. Teresa Martin, an orphan train rider, asked me to help her write her story. I hesitated, but she was bright and eager. A librarian, she had saved and dated much of the information we would need. So I chose to write about her primarily for personal reasons. Politically, I looked forward to writing a biography about a common person rather than a celebrity. I liked the challenge.
I watched an interview of Theresa Martin from YouTube. In the clip, I noticed immediately her ease as she spoke about that time of her life and the humor she brought to it. I could imagine the two of you chatting, sharing coffee or tea and getting off subject with your bubbly personalities.
Our collaboration was much like that. We talked a lot about dogs. We both loved to research, so one of us was always following the other into some library or museum.
What kind of kinship have you developed with Theresa after delving so deeply into her life?
I grew to love Theresa. I probably know more about her than anyone, even her daughters, so I feel like a familial appendage, a niece, perhaps.
What is it about MAIL-ORDER KID that you want me, as the reader, to glean from Theresa’s life or her view of life as a Mail-Order Kid?
I want you and every reader to glean what she/he will from reading this book. And I hope readers are left with a bit of awe for the life Teresa led and the adjustment she made to it.
I want to change direction for a bit here and ask about some of your other works such as the poem “Pricksong,” which won a Pushcart Prize, and your novel Marcella.
Why have you taken the hard road as a female author and chosen to reveal graphically honest views of atrocities in your stories and poems?
Mari Sandoz, author of OLD JULES, and Henry Miller, in many books, taught me through their pages that no subject is forbidden to the serious writer.
Let me speak to you of MARCELLA.
I wrote this controversial novel after a successful psychoanalysis that unearthed a suicide attempt I had made when I was about sixteen. I decided to write about that experience. MARCELLA started as a memoir but morphed into a novel, albeit an autographically based novel.
I was shaking in my boots to be writing MARCELLA, but a close writer friend, now Kate Yarrow, said to me, “Marilyn, this is the most important thing you’ve ever written.” She became my first reader, lovingly editing each rewrite of the entire book twelve times.
Today I consider Marcella the most daring book I ever wrote. It also reaped me the most rewards. I was published by a major New York publisher, distributed overseas with a paperback in England and with published excerpts in Danish and Australian publications.
Here in the states, MS. excerpted my chapter on menstruation and Gloria Steinem called my novel "an important part of the truth telling by and for women."
To my astonishment, MARCELLA made literary history. It is the first novel written in English to use female autoeroticism as a main theme. Autoeroticism. That’s fancy language for masturbation.
I believe the masturbation described in my novel is lyrical and sometimes funny. But of course my views don’t match everyone’s. MARCELLA has been censored in Nebraska libraries. Even my publisher told me he didn’t want to take on the book; however, he’d promised his editor that he’d publish the next book she selected. She selected MARCELLA and didn’t back down.
Thank you Marilyn June Coffey for taking your time to do this interview. I owe you big time as now you have become a huge inspiration to me as a person and a writer.
Dear readers, I hope you appreciate as much as I the unassuming way in which Marilyn has opened herself up to us in this interview. She has graced us with her unabridged honest approach to life through her writing. I feel honored that she not only agreed to this interview, but seemed to relish in it.
Visit her web site about MAIL-ORDER KID at www.mail-orderkid.com where you can listen to her reading from the book.
When I listened to her voice during her reading, I ended up with tears in my eyes.
At www.marilyncoffey.net is a complete listing of her works, biography, and find where to purchase her books.
Now, to Great Plains Writer - Marilyn June Coffey, thank you and of course, we want more.