Anishinaabe writer Marcie Rendon has just been awarded the prestigious McKnight Distinguished Artist Award for 2020.
Rendon is a citizen of the White Earth Nation who lives in south Minneapolis. She is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, play write, author and poet.
The McKnight honor comes with $50,000 dollars.
Marcie Rendon says she feels grateful, honored and humbled by the recognition.
Reporter Melissa Townsend talked with Rendon about her work and the most recent recognition.
” It was not something that I expected or even knew about – like it was totally not on my radar at all as a possibility.” said Rendon.
And it was intended to be a surprise.
“Laurie Pourier of First People’s Fund had sent me an email asking me if I would do a Zoom meeting about my writing in the coming year. I said sure. So I signed on to the Zoom that day. And there were all the people from the Twin Cities and Laurie and that’s how they told me and that’s when I burst in to tears.” said Rendon, laughing.
Rendon is the first Native woman ever to win the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award which was first given in 1996.
She says she sees amazing Native women artists all across the state.
“And I might have even said it to the people on Zoom is I can think of a 100 other people who deserve this award. You know Laura Youngbird’s work, Wendy Savage, Karen Savage, you know that whole Savage family up in Fond du Lac. Sara Agaton Howes… I mean I could just go on naming names naming names. In arts and even in writing, women tend to always be thought of second – so I think we are the backbone of creativity in this region, in this landscape.” said Rendon
Rendon says she’s been writing poems and stories since she learned how to write.
In 1978 she moved from White Earth to Minneapolis to get a job to support her children.
The company she worked for went out of business but gave Rendon a year’s pay as severance.
She says that gave her the chance to do the three things she wanted – take care of her kids, sew and write.
She went on to get paid writing assignments for community newspapers and magazines and she landed couple of key writers programs where she was able to get the time and resources to dig in – [the Loft Inroads Writers Award for Natives and the Norcroft women’s writing retreat.]
One of her early mentors was the wonderful Anishinaabe writer Jim Northrop.
Like Northrop, Rendon’s work is primarily focused on Native people in the here and now.
“One of the things I’ve tried really hard to do in all of the work that I’ve done is to create a mirror. You know growing up there were no Native books where I could go and look and say oh, this is us – this is my family, this is who I am. And so really trying to create things where other Native people can point and say this is us.” she said.
She points to David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s new crime thriller “Winter Count” and Angeline Boulley’s “Fire Keeper’s Daughter”.
“They are current day stories that are coming out that are not locked in the past.” said Rendon.
Rendon has just finished a new play and is working on her third novel in the Cash Blackbear mystery series which is set in the Red River Valley.
On September 2nd she’s hosting a Facebook Live event where she’ll read from the second book and do a dramatic reenactment of a scene from the story.
It’s one of the ways Rendon is trying to connect with readers during the pandemic.
Rendon says she is humbled to receive this year’s McKnight Distinguished Artist Award.
“You know the word distinguished, That is certainly not a word I would use to describe myself or my work. I am always conscious of writing from my heart.” Rendon said.
Perhaps she doesn’t think of herself as distinguished, but she says this does mark a milestone in her life.
“As a woman, as a writer, as an artist, I have to own what I’ve done and what I continue to do both for myself as an artist and then for the larger community. Holding a place for other native people and women – young people coming up – or even older women, because I’m certainly not young, you know.” said Rendon.
Congratulations Marcie Rendon.
Reporting for Minnesota Native News, Melissa Townsend.
Listen to the extended conversation with Marcie here