Maltman, Thomas 1971–

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Maltman, Thomas 1971–

(Thomas James Maltman, Tom Maltman)


Born June 6, 1971; married (wife is a pastor); children: Tess. Education: Eastern Washington University, B.A., 1995; Minnesota State University, Mankato, M.F.A., 2005. Hobbies and other interests: Running, chess, photography, hunting.


Home— Manitowoc, WI. Office— Department of English, Silver Lake College, 2406 S. Alverno Rd., Manitowoc, WI 54220. E-mail— [email protected]; [email protected]


Apple Valley Middle School, Apple Valley, CA, language arts teacher, 1997-2001; Cedar Mountain High School, Morgan, MN, English teacher, 2001-2002; Minnesota State University, Mankato, teaching assistant, 2002-2005; Silver Lake College, Manitowoc, WI, assistant professor, 2005—.


First place, Midwest Poetry Review Chapbook Contest, 2002, for Hour of the Red Tide; Minnesota State University Robert C. Wright award, 2003, and Best of 2007 award,St. Louis Post-Dispatch, both for The Night Birds.


The Night Birds(novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of chapbook, "Hour of the Red Tide," published in the Midwest Review, summer, 2002. Also author of the blog Grumpy Griffin. Contibutor to periodicals, including Briar Cliff Review, Under the Sun, Rock & Sling, Georgetown Review, Great River Review, and Main Channel Voices.


In his debut novel,The Night Birds, poet and creative-writing teacher Thomas Maltman explores an historical event that usually receives scant notice in U.S. history courses: the Great Sioux War, a conflict between the Dakota and the U.S. Army that culminated with the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota, in 1862. Maltman discovered the story when he read a children's book,Welcome to Kristen's World, 1854: Growing Up in Pioneer America, a volume in the "American Girls" series. Shocked by the violence of the story, and particularly interested in its resonance because he had moved to a house just five miles away from the site of the conflict, he felt compelled to use it as the basis of a novel. As he told Loaded Shelf Web site interviewer Kelly Hewitt, "They say you don't choose your subjects, your subjects choose you. I felt this story calling to me from out of time and knew that I had to tell it."

The novel, which drew several favorable reviews, tells the story of the Senger family: fourteen-year-old Asa; his father, Caleb; and his mother, Cassie, homesteaders who struggle to eke out an existence in Minnesota after being run out of Missouri for Caleb's abolitionist sympathies. The narrative begins in 1876, when Asa is reunited with his Aunt Hazel. As a young woman Hazel had been captured by the Dakota, living among them as the wife of a warrior; for the past ten years, however, she has been institutionalized in a mental hospital. Just released, she bonds with Asa, and her reminiscences blend with his to illuminate the Sengers' story. Life for the Sengers is unremittingly harsh; they deal with the death of a mother, whose body must be kept preserved through the winter because the earth is frozen too hard to dig a grave; the slaughter of their pregnant cow by a pack of wolves; deranged fellow settlers, one of whom poisons a field of blackbirds with strychnine; and a soil microbe that gives family members a devastating skin rash. Desperate, they seek help from the local Dakota Sioux, who give them a healing root mixture. After this, the Sengers and the Indians coexist on relatively friendly terms. In 1862, however, violence erupts: according to the historical record, hungry and displaced bands of Dakota rose up against the settlers, taking hundreds of scalps. The U.S. military retaliated with force, killing many and sentencing more than 300 captives to death after a perfunctory trial. President Abraham Lincoln set aside the sentences, however, for all but thirty-eight of the prisoners. They were hanged from a single scaffold on December 26, 1862—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

According to novelist Madison Smartt Bell, reviewing The Night Birds in the Boston Globe, Maltman creates a "wonderfully nuanced story of the complex relationship between Minnesota settlers and the Sioux before, during, and after the crisis of 1862." The critic also gave Maltman credit for adding the subject of slavery and abolition to the novel, though Smartt Bell suggested that "Maltman attempts a little too much" in doing so, and relies on some "contrivance" of plot to make all the story lines mesh. Even so, the critic felt that Maltman's treatment of these themes "seems perfectly true" and that his book comes "impressively close" to greatness. Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune writer Ethan Rutherford, however, found The Night Birds melodramatic. In Rutherford's view, Maltman's characters are undeveloped and his explanation of the violence is "reductive and uninteresting." Citing Maltman's own comment that a good story "defies the reader's expectations," the critic noted that, despite some "luminously written and harrowing" passages, the novel fails to defy any expectations and simplifies historical events that, in a fictional retelling, should be rendered complex. Chicago Sun Times contributor Randy Michael Signor, on the other hand, observed that The Night Birds "soars and sings like a feathered angel" and "should be listened to, its words allowed to take wing before coming to rest in your heart."

Maltman told CA: "I've known since I was sixteen years old that I wanted to be a writer. I devoured novels in high school, sometimes reading a book in a single day. My senior year I wrote a short story where I imagined the writer Edgar Allan Poe's last night on earth. My teacher gushed over it and I began to think I might have some future as a storyteller."

When asked what writers influence his writing, Maltman responded: "I marvel at Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels, sprawling spiritual sagas that tackle the great question of our existence: what is the meaning of suffering? I'm also partial to the off-kilter worlds of Flannery O'Connor, where strangers and small-town folk contend with mysteries at the center of our lives."

When asked to describe his writing process, Maltman responded: "I wake up before dawn while the rest of the world still sleeps. Armed with a mug of steaming coffee, I brave the blank screen. One strategy I've learned over the years is to print out the pages I've written at the end of the day. The next morning I begin by deleting those passages from the computer and with the printed pages in hand, I write it over again, making changes where necessary. This gets me in the flow of writing right away. By deleting the old passages I'm also more likely to make changes and realize connections that will deepen a scene. Once I'm done with the old scene, I push beyond it into new territory. It's not a very efficient process, but is writing ever? I wish stories sprang forth from my imagination fully formed, like the Greek goddess Aphrodite sprang from Zeus, but it never works that way for me.

"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that it doesn't get any easier. A second novel takes just as much work as a first novel. I am constantly teaching myself new things about this ancient craft.

"I have a lifelong love affair with books—books that offer refuge or escape and books that root me in the complex reality of the everyday, books that take me on journeys to far places and books that celebrate the mystery of ordinary life, books about lost worlds and books about the one I know so well.

"My hope is that my books will touch a reader's emotional and spiritual life and that when she is done the words will go on resonating inside her. My hope is that the reader will be transported and uplifted and see her own life reflected and refracted beautifully by what happens on the page. My hope is that my books will only deepen the reader's love of literature and life."



Boston Globe, August 12, 2007, Madison Smartt Bell, "A Poetic Imagining, from Both Sides of a Cultural Frontier."

Denver Post, August 12, 2007, Robin Vidimos, "From a Flock of Sorrows, Solace Takes Wing."

Entertainment Weekly, August 6, 2007, Adam Markovitz, review of The Night Birds.

Library Journal, April 15, 2007, Chris Pusateri, review of The Night Birds, p. 75.

Publishers Weekly, June 25, 2007, review of The Night Birds, p. 34.

Rocky Mountain News, December 7, 2007, Dan Whipple, review of The Night Birds.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 2007, Amy Woods Butler, review of The Night Birds.

Star Tribune(Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), August 3, 2007, Ethan Rutherford, "Heroes and Villains on the Minnesota Prairie."

Sun Times(Chicago, IL), September 8, 2007, Randy Michael Signor, review of The Night Birds.


City Pages(Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), (November 3, 2007), Rhena Tantisunthorn, review of The Night Birds.

ForeWord Magazine, (November 3, 2007), Thomas Maltman profile.

Loaded Shelf, (November 3, 2007), Kelly Hewitt, interview with Thomas Maltman.

Reader's Loft, (November 3, 2007), review of The Night Birds.

Silver Lake College Web site, (November 3, 2007), Tom Maltman faculty profile.

Thomas Maltman Home Page, (November 3, 2007).