Margaret McMullan

Photo courtesy of Margaret McMullan

Photo courtesy of Margaret McMullan

Major Works

  • Every Father’s Daughter:  Twenty-four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers, editor (2015)
  • Aftermath Lounge:  A Novel in Stories (2015)
  • Sources of Light (2010)
  • Cashay (2009)
  • When I Crossed No-Bob (2007)
  • How I Found the Strong: A Civil War Story (2004)
  • In My Mother’s House (2003)
  • When Warhol Was Still Alive (1994)

Margaret McMullan: A Biography

Margaret McMullan was born in Newton County, Mississippi, and moved with her family at the age of ten to Chicago. She is now an Aftermath Lounge by McMullansmEnglish professor and chair of the department at the University of Evansville, Indiana. McMullan earned a Bacheolor’s degree in Religious Studies from Grinnell College and her M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She now lives in Evansville with her husband Patrick O’Connor and their son James. The three of them have published an article in an issue of National Geographic for Kids.

McMullan’s first novel, When Warhol Was Still Alive, was published by Crossing Press in 1994, and her second novel,In My Mother’s House, was published by Picador (September 9, 2004). She also co-wrote (with her husband Pat) the film Sacred Hearts. In addition, she has written three young adult novels: How I Found the Strong(2004), When I Crossed No-Bob (2007), and Cashay,which will be released April 6, 2009. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Glamour (where she was an associate entertainment editor), the Chicago Tribune, Southern Accents, the Indianapolis Star, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Greensboro Review, The Southern California Anthology, Other Voices, Boulevard, Ploughshares. and in A Very Southern Christmas: Holiday Stories from the South’s Best Writers.

McMullan has been the recipient of various honors and awards. In 2005 she won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction and the Southwestern Indiana’s Arts Council Award for Artist of the Year. She received a Special Mention in the 2005 Pushcart Prize collection, and twice she received the Individual Artist Fellowship from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was the 2007 Eudora Welty Visiting Writer at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. McMullan’s young adult book, How I Found the Strong, won the 2006 Award for Fiction from the Mississippi Library Association, the 2004 Indiana Best Young Adult Book of Fiction, and was named an ALA 2005 Notable Social Studies Book. It was voted a “Great Book” by the state of Maryland Book Consortium and chosen as Evansville, Indiana’s, First Youth Selection for the 2004 One Book/One Community reading program. The work was also selected as one of two books to represent Indiana on the American Library Association’s “Many Voices, One Nation” booklist. It was also named a Booklist‘s Top Ten First Novel for Youth.

When Warhol Was Still Alive, McMullan’s first novel, is set in the mid-80’s in Manhattan. The main character is a poorly paid, single woman named Catherine, whose job it is to compile and edit the entertainment page for a women’s magazine. Other characters include a bisexual man, her boss, Fran, and Andy Warhol-obsessed, gay Joey, who develops AIDS and dies. Her second novel, In My Mother’s House, was published in 2003. Although it is a fictional story, it was inspired by her maternal great-grandmother and the story moves from pre-World War II Austria to the United States a generation later. The novel is the story of a daughter’s desire to understand her mother’s silence about their family’s experiences in Vienna during World War II.

How I Found the Strong by Margaret McMullen

How I Found the Strong by Margaret McMullen

How I Found the Strong: A Story of the Civil War is McMullan’s first young adult novel. It is a coming-of-age story set in Mississippi during and after the Civil War and tells the story of Frank and others caught up in the bloody battles around them. Eleven-year-old Frank would like to join his father and older brother in the Confederate army, but he must stay at home with Ma, his grandparents, and Buck, the family’s slave. McMullan uses family stories, a relative’s war diary, and the first-person narrative of Frank to tell the story. The book is dedicated to her father, James McMullan, and her son, James O’Connor. The book has received rave reviews.  Booklist says that the book is “one of the best of the many recent books about young people in the South caught up in the bloody conflict.”

McMullan’s second young adult novel When I Crossed No-Bob is a sequel to How I Found the Strong.  No-Bob is the name of a wood where Addy O’Donnell and her no-good family live. Addy is abandoned by her mother, and Frank Russell and his new bride take Addy in. In this coming-of-age story, Addy must find the courage to do what’s right.

A third young adult novel (Cashay) was published in 2009. She was the National Author Winner of the 2011 Eugene and Marilyn Glich Indiana Authors Award in 2011 and her  Sources of Light, was a 2012 Special Award Winner from the Mississippi Library Association.

In the spring of 2015,  McMullan released her seventh book,  Aftermath Lounge:  A Novel in Stories.  She also edited a collection of essays entitled Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers  in 2015.

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Interview with Margaret McMullan (October, 2008)

Where and when were you born? Do you have any siblings?

I was born in 1960 in Newton, Mississippi. I have one sister, Carlette.

What are your parents’ names? What can you tell us about them?

My father James McMullan was born in Lake, Mississippi and later went into business with his father in Newton. My mother, Madeleine was born in Vienna, Austria. She met my father in Washington, D.C. at a dinner party.

Is your husband also a writer or what does he do?

My husband Pat O’Connor is a screenwriter and a fiction writer. He sold a screenplay to Steven Spielberg and has worked on several films and other screenplays. Right now he owns his own advertising and marketing business called o’connor/creative.

What author do you think has influenced you the most?

The authors who influence me the most are the ones I keep going back to, namely Shakespeare and Faulkner.

Why did you decide to write a young adult novel with the Civil War as its setting? Where do you get your ideas for your books?

The decision to write How I Found the Strong was not entirely my own. One year, the week before Thanksgiving, my grandmother called us all down to Newton so that she could say goodbye because she knew she was dying. She reminded me of a shoebox in her closet. In the shoebox was a 60-page manuscript. Her great-great uncle, Frank Russell, had talked out his life to a secretary who typed it all down. He had lived before, during, and after the Civil War, but he never talked about the war at all in those 60 pages. After my grandmother’s funeral, I couldn’t stop thinking about Frank Russell – his voice, his life, and all the white spaces in that manuscript, the parts of his life that he left out. That’s what I decided I had to write. It felt as though my grandmother had given me an assignment, and I felt closer to her as a result.

When did you become interested in writing? Was there something in particular that got you interested?

When we moved from Mississippi to the Chicago area, I was in the fourth grade. Back then, people didn’t move around as much as they do now. My classmates heard my accent and made fun of me. A lot. So I grew very quiet. That’s when I started taking notes. I made a little notebook out of notebook paper and colored yarn and recorded the weather, my overly dramatic feelings, what people said, everything. Writing became a habit. Once my sister stole this notebook and read funny sections of it out loud to me and then to my parents. I was mad at first, but then I saw that they were entertained. After that, I started reading to them from my notebook. Years later, in high school, I won a prize from Scholastic Magazine for a story called “Bees.” I got $50 and a gold pen with my name on it. I was officially hooked.

What kind of student were you in high school?

I was a spacey student. I was terrible at math and I wish I had read more. I loved science, but I wasn’t particularly good at taking tests. I had no intention of staying in the Midwest…which of course landed me in the Midwest for college.

How long did it take you to write How I Found the Strong? Are the characters based on real people?

It took me about one year to write How I Found the Strong,– the quickest I’ve ever written anything. I spent five years researching and writing In My Mother’s House. “Shanks” is based on my idea of what my grandmother’s great-great uncle Frank Russell would have been like as a boy. The other characters are made up characters, compilations of people I’ve known. Buck is quiet and a lot like I was when we moved away from Mississippi.

Are you working on a new book right now? What is it about? (2008)

I’m working on two new books. One is a collection of stories about a family after Hurricane Katrina destroys their town and home. The other book, a book for young adults, is about a 14 year old girl and her mother living in Jackson in 1962, the year before “Freedom Summer.”

Have you received awards for your writing not mentioned above?

When I Crossed No-Bob was named a 2008 Parents’ Choice Silver Honor, a 2007 School Library Journal Best Book, a 2008 finalist for the Willie Morris Prize for Southern Fiction, a Kliatt Editors’ choice: best of the year’s hardcover YA fiction, Winner 2008 Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award for Fiction, Winner Indiana Best Young Adult Book of Fiction 2008, a New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council Top 10 Title, a Mississippi Press Book Pick for 2007, a 2008 Honor book, Horace Mann Upstanders Book Award, Antioch University (L.A.); and nominated for 2009 Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association.

Do you have any advice for future writers?

Get out, be curious about everybody and everything, travel and take notes, and read, read, read.

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Related Websites

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  • McBain, Roger. “Strong” Family Ties Give Life to McMullan’s Civil War Book.University of Evansville: Faculty News. April 29, 2004. (Reprinted from Evansville Courier & Press)

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