Martin, Lee 1955–
Martin, Lee 1955–
PERSONAL: Born 1955; son of a farmer (father) and a teacher (mother).
ADDRESSES: Home—Columbus, OH. Office—Ohio State University, 166 Denney, 164 W. 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. University of North Texas, Denton, creative writing professor; Ohio State University College of the Humanities, Columbus, began as associate professor, then professor of English and director of creative writing.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, 1995, for The Least You Need to Know; Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, 2000, for From Our House; Notable Works of Fiction selection, Washington Post, 2001, for Quakertown; Book Sense pick, 2005, for The Bright Forever; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; Lawrence Foundation Award; Glenna Luschei Prize.
Traps (short stories), Ion Books (Memphis, TN), 1988.
The Least You Need to Know: Stories, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 1996.
From Our House: A Memoir, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Quakertown (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor, with Jeffrey Skinner) Passing the Word: Writers on Their Mentors, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2001.
Turning Bones (memoir), University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
The Bright Forever (novel), Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Also contributor to Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, Harper's, Ms., Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Shenandoah, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and Glimmer Train.
SIDELIGHTS: Raised as an only child in a rural environment, educator and author Lee Martin experienced a difficult, if not isolated, childhood. When Martin was about a year old his father suffered a farming accident and lost both of his hands. Though his family life was often grim and he was very shy, Martin found solace in creative thought and became both a teacher of creative writing and a writer himself.
Martin's short-story collection The Least You Need to Know focuses on parental relationships to sons (both of fathers to sons and of mothers to sons), and how difficult such bonds can be. Critics commented positively on many elements of the collection. Writing in Studies in Short Fiction, Sanford Pinsker noted, "Martin's delicious stories are as elemental and rigorously unadorned as the Midwestern landscape in which they are set." Calling The Least You Need to Know "accomplished," a Publishers Weekly contributor stated: "the characters he [Martin] writes about are utterly real, if somewhat uniform…. But their concerns and joys are perfectly identifiable and voiced with passion."
Martin continued to draw strong characters in his next work, a memoir titled From Our House. In the book, the author covers his childhood and teen years, focusing on his immediate family in detail. He describes his often-negative relationship with his father. In addition to talking about the damaging effects of his father's accident on his and the entire family's psyches, Martin also discusses how his father did not accept Martin's pensive nature and disinterest in farming. Their constant conflicts often manifested in violence, with the author being beaten regularly and savagely.
In addition, the author also describes his rebellion. Martin writes that he felt very alone as a child, and by the time he hits his late teens, he is committing petty crimes such as arson and theft. Martin later embraced religion, and he eventually reached an understanding with his father. Though agonizing, the author admitted he needed to express what was in From Our House. Indeed, critics acknowledged Martin's unflinching, honest portrait of himself and his family. In Prairie Schooner, John Talbird, III, wrote: "In this memoir Martin takes us, in his careful, graceful prose, along the itinerary of his own family's problems. However, Martin does not wallow in self pity, nor does he seems to be on a mission to get even with his father."
Martin returned to the subject of his family life in another memoir, Turning Bones. The book chronicles his search into his ancestry. Because of sometimes-limited information, Martin attempts to fill the gaps by making up stories about his family. He also describes the shame and remorse he feels by not carrying on the family tradition of farming. Sarah Huffines, writing in Midwest Quarterly, noted: "By fictionalizing his ancestors' lives, he does not just imagine the past; Martin explores his own life through these fictionalized characters, and in that way both fulfills and broadens our expectations of memoir."
In between his memoirs, Martin published his first novel, Quakertown. The book is based on a black community that used to exist on the edge of Denton, Texas; Quakertown, as it was called, was essentially decimated in the 1920s. The novel offers a fictionalized account of the decimation. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Jabari Asim noted that "the gulf of ignorance that looms between the black and white residents of Denton—despite the fact that they spend most of their days in each other's company—is the engine driving Martin's tightly plotted and well-paced story. "Chicago Tribune Books contributor Sandra Scofield stated that "when Martin draws back from his inventory of emotions and focuses on moments of sharp sensory observation, he can take your breath away."
Martin's second novel, The Bright Forever, is also concerned with relationships in a small community, but this book takes the form of a murder mystery. Set in small-town Indiana, the plot is driven by the disappearance and subsequent murder of nine-year-old Katie Mackey. Her father, Junior, owns the town's main source of employment, a glass factory, and heads the most wealthy family in town. The incident reveals many of the Mackay family's secrets, as well as the strained relationships throughout the community at large.
Reviews of The Bright Forever noted the strength of Martin's prose. Writing in the Library Journal, Reba Leiding commented that the "book is written in lyrical prose that will engage readers of all types." Washington Post Book World reviewer Carolyn See called The Bright Forever "a deeply traditional novel, 'literary' in the old-fashioned sense," adding that "its overall tone is as soft and giving as one of mom's old blankets."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Martin, Lee, From Our House: A Memoir, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Martin, Lee, Turning Bones, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
Booklist, June 1, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of From Our House, p. 1836; May 15, 2001, Michael Spinella, review of Quakertown, p. 1733.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of The Bright Forever, p. 252.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Gina Kaiser, review of From Our House, p. 126; June 1, 2001, Amy Strong, review of Passing the Word: Writers on Their Mentors, p. 162; May 15, 2005, Reba Leiding, review of The Bright Forever, p. 107.
Midwest Quarterly, autumn, 2004, Sarah Huffines, review of Turning Bones, p. 96.
Prairie Schooner, summer, 2001, John Talbird, III, review of From Our House, p. 182.
Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, review of The Least You Need to Know, p. 74; May 8, 2000, review of From Our House, p. 213; June 11, 2001, review of Quakertown, p. 60; July 23, 2001, review of Passing the Word, p. 66; March 28, 2005, review of The Bright Forever, p. 54.
Studies in Short Fiction, fall, 1996, Sanford Pinsker, review of The Least You Need to Know, p. 596.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 5, 2001, Sandra Scofield, "Debut Novel Leaves Little to Reader's Imagination," review of Quakertown, p. 4; May 29, 2005, Conan Putnam, "A Look at the Hard Truths of Everyday Life in a Small Town," review of The Bright Forever, p. 3.
Washington Post Book World, July 1, 2005, Jabari Asim, "Their Own Private Eden," review of Quakertown, p. T3; May 27, 2005, Carolyn See, "The Killer among Us," review of The Bright Forever, p. C3.
Writer, August, 2001, Stephanie Dickison, review of Passing the Word, p. 46.
Penguin Putnam Web site, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (June 29, 2005), interview with Martin.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (June 29, 2005), biography of Lee Martin.