PERSONAL: Born in New York, NY; children: Christopher, Hope, Leif, Eli, Benjamin and Luke (identical twins), Hilary, Annika and Britt (fraternal twins), Amos, Zachary, and Maria. Education: University of Iowa, Ph.D.
ADDRESSES: Home—Iowa City, IA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Workman Publishing, 708 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
AWARDS, HONORS: Two grants from National Endowment for the Arts; Great Lakes Book Award, and Best Novel designation, Washington Post Books World, both 2004, and Michigan Notable Book designation, 2005, all for Ursula, Under.
Dixie Church Interstate Blues, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Ursula, Under, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2004.
Author of over thirty short stories. Work represented in anthologies; contributor of short stories to literary journals, including Black Warrior Review, Southern Review, and Shenandoah.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Ballad of Rappy Valcour (and More New Orleans Stories).
SIDELIGHTS: Ingrid Hill was born in New York City and spent much of her childhood in New Orleans. Except for three years in Washington State, she has spent half of her adult life in the university communities of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Iowa City, Iowa, where she earned her doctorate. Hill, who has twelve children, including two sets of twins, began her writing career as a short story writer. Her first published book is a collection of these stories titled Dixie Church Interstate Blues.
Hill's debut novel, Ursula, Under, spans more than 2,000 years and the lives of the ancestors of one family. Times-Picayune reviewer Susan Larson wrote that reading it "is a bit like opening up a treasure chest; the reader is drawn in by the shining brightness, and keeps digging to find more beauty beneath. The riches just keep on coming." The central figure in the story is two-year-old Ursula, daughter of Justin Wong and Annie Maki, both of whom suffered traumatic childhoods, and who struggle to raise their daughter in a trailer on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Justin is a half Chinese, half Polish laborer and musician. Annie, whose injuries from a childhood bike accident have led to her dependence on a walker, is searching for her roots in Michigan's mining towns, one of which was the site of a cave-in that took her Finnish grandfather's life
On one such trip, toddler Ursula, who loves the color purple, slips away from her parents and falls into a mine shaft, instantly becoming national news. Hill takes the reader in another direction, however, exploring the ancestors from whom the child is descended, including third-century Chinese alchemist Qin Lao, the female companion of an eighteenth-century Finnish queen, and Chen Bing, a nineteenth-century mollusk collector living in California. Larson remarked that Hill "is like Scheherezade, dancing the reader along through one magical landscape after another in stories of Ursula's ancient ancestors." A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that "the cumulative impact of all those ancestors' stories adds an epic grandeur and surprising emotional punch to the finale."
One of the present-day characters is wealthy Jinx Muhlenberg, who caused Annie's childhood injuries when she hit her while driving drunk. Now Jinx wonders what all the fuss is about over a "goddamn half-breed, trailer-trash kid." Another is Ursula's grandmother, Mindy Ji, who senses the power of the ancestors, "as if everything here were incredibly fragile—all these meld together in a tissue of hope, suddenly. Life is persistent. Ursula will live."
Washington Post Book World reviewer Michael Anft felt that "some of the characters would work as main players in novels of their own" and concluded: "ultimately, Hill embraces a crucial Big Novel component. Her book asks, and at length answers, a Big Question: What is a life worth? The miracle of Ursula, Under is that it reminds us that while a good story—told with all the weight of the world and through skeins of time—might not be as indispensable as a beloved child, it can relate the value of that child, and through its narrative gift help us recall why life is worth the trouble."
Hill told CA: "Audience response to the size of my old-fashioned family tends both to distract from the text at hand and to reinforce the undeniable source of my fiction, for which I am very grateful.
"There is a magical-realist tilt to a good bit of my work—just as Gabriel García Márquez explained, that orientation in his fiction (perhaps a bit tongue in cheek) is an effort to replicate faithfully the experiences of his childhood in a colonial Latin-American culture suffused with superstitious religious practice and a tropical climate. I believe my own tilt proceeds from a variety of surreal life experiences which could be accurately represented no other way. I write as a woman, first and undeniably. My artistic influences are diverse, from the nineteenth-century novel to Imagist poetry to Asian and European immigrant oral histories to the contemporary personal essay to metafiction. Always I write from a life model."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, Deborah Donovan, review of Ursula, Under, p. 1544.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Ursula, Under, p. 287.
Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Ann H. Fisher, review of Ursula, Under, p. 140.
People, June 21, 2004, Margaux Wexberg, review of Ursula, Under, p. 52.
Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA), July 13, 2004, Susan Larson, review of Ursula, Under, "Living," p. 1.
Washington Post Book World, August 22, 2004, Michael Anft, review of Ursula, Under, p. T5.