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Kao Kalia Yang screwed up the premise of this story with her answer to my very first question.

I was writing about four local writers who, somehow, managed to each have three books coming out this year.

"Actually, it's four books," said Yang, who does, indeed, have a quartet of 2024 offerings.

She's just wrapping up publicity tours for the first three (memoir "Where Rivers Part" and two books for young people, "Caged" and "The Rock in My Throat," with middle grade novel "The Diamond Explorer" coming in September). And, in her spare time, she gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree from her alma mater, Carleton College.

"It's partly a coincidence," said Yang, who hadn't had a book out since 2021. "But I don't really believe in coincidence, so it was meant to happen this way."

Kao Kalia Yang
Kao Kalia Yang

Marcie R. Rendon, who just published a poetry collection, "Anishinaabe Songs for a New Millennium," and has a mystery, "Where They Last Saw Her," and a children's book, "Stitches of Tradition," coming this fall, has a theory about all this productivity: "An alien ship landed and zapped us."

She's kidding, of course. Truthfully, one thing Rendon and Yang have in common is that they don't sleep much, which is true of two other 2024 Minnesota Triple Threats: Ty Chapman, whose poetry collection "Tartarus" is already in stores and who'll release two children's books, "James Finds the Beat" and "Stokes: The Brief Career of the NBA's First Black Superstar" (co-written with fellow Minneapolis writer John Coy) in October.

Also, Kate DiCamillo's "Ferris" and "Orris and Timble: The Beginning" are out now and her "The Hotel Balzaar" lands in October.

In a time when slacker Donna Tartt hasn't published anything since her 2013 bestseller "The Goldfinch," it goes without saying that these writers keep their fingers to the grindstone, but each approaches work differently.

'Playing with many different toys'

Yang, who has three small children, tends to tackle one project at a time, stealing computer minutes between meals and school.

Chapman, who jokes that his writing process is "more chaos and whimsy than science" and who's now at work on two young adult books, said, "I have a short attention span, so I get bored easily and I enjoy playing with many different toys. It was great having shorter-form projects that I could jump to when I was feeling burnt out or stuck or just wanted something different."

Ty Chapman
Ty Chapman

Rendon also juggles projects, envisioning her brain as a filing cabinet from which she can pull out whichever file she needs.

" 'Where They Last Saw Her,' I've been working on since pre-COVID. And then the children's book that comes out in October, that just happened with [the publisher's] schedule. 'Anishinaabe Songs for a New Millennium' is something I've been working on for 20-plus years," said Rendon.

"I've been anthologized to death, but I've never had a collection of my poetry and I got a residency — oh geez — at Franconia Sculpture Park last winter and I had three weeks where all I did was go through every single poem I had."

The pandemic didn't have much impact on Chapman's books, although it altered the course of his career. When performance spaces went dark in 2020, the puppeteer and theater artist shifted to writing. But DiCamillo, like Rendon, found that the pandemic gave her more time than usual to focus on work.

"Everybody I talked to was, like, 'I can't do anything.' For whatever reason, I could and it saved me," said DiCamillo. "I don't know why it worked that way for me."

DiCamillo said the pandemic's stay-at-home months suited writing: "Before the pandemic, so much of my life was traveling and then I was here and the stories, I needed them and they showed up."

Yang thinks there are specific reasons why she and her fellow Minnesota writers have been extra-productive of late.

'So much to write about'

"The murder of George Floyd and the economic situation — there is so much to write about in our world now and in the Minnesota context, that is especially true," said Yang, all four of whose books draw inspiration from her having been born in a Thai refugee camp.

"We have all these refugees coming in, with wars being fought so many places around the world, and Minnesota is the No. 1 place in secondary refugee resettlement [meaning refugees who originally land in another state before moving here]. And we're one of the top states for resettlement overall," said Yang, citing the welcoming atmosphere in Minnesota, as well as its social services. "As a refugee writer, there is so much to write about in this state, so much the rest of the world isn't even looking at."

Since three of these four super producers are people of color, it's also worth noting that writers of color often have felt they had to work twice as hard to get half as much attention as their white counterparts.

Marcie Rendon, winner of McKnight Distinguished Artists Fellowship.
Marcie Rendon, winner of McKnight Distinguished Artists Fellowship.

Jaida Grey Eagle, Star Tribune

Even in just the last decade of her career, Rendon said she has seen change in the stories publishers want to bring into the world. Speaking during a break from a workshop for Native writers, she's seen growing acceptance of stories from marginalized voices.

"With 'Murder on the Red River,' it was five years of rejection before I ever got published — rejection by agents, editors, publishers. And then: Boom!" said Rendon, whose debut mystery hit stores in 2017, launching a hit series. "I think it was a change in the industry."

Chapman emphasized that the publishing world is tough for everyone.

"I'm not going to sit here and say folks of color have to work harder in this industry. I know plenty of white authors who work very hard as well," Chapman said. "But there is that feeling like we're running uphill sometimes, especially when our stories haven't been wanted historically and are still not welcome in certain spaces."

Yang, too, thinks the tide is turning. In her case, it's turning into a deluge.

"There are seasons of flood and seasons of drought in every writer's life, so next year will be a quieter year for me," said Yang. "And then we gear up for 2026 — in which I think I'll have three books."