Michael Martone was born August 22, 1955, in
Fort Wayne, Indiana. He
attended school there until he went to Butler University from
1973-1976. He transferred to Indiana University in 1977 where
he received his A.B. degree. He then enrolled in writing seminars
at Johns Hopkins University, earning his M.A. in 1979. Martone
has taught literature and creative writing at several different
universities, including Iowa State, Harvard, Syracuse, and
the University of Alabama, where he currently teaches.
and Other Landscapes is a collection of essays
in which Martone comments, often ironically, on many aspects
of Indiana, including the misconception that Indiana’s
land is completely flat. On the contrary, he points out that
those living in Indiana are able to detect the minor rises
and falls in the landscape. Hoosiers, he writes, are aware
of the types of terrain contained in Indiana that are not
evident to others:
There are places in the Midwest that are not like this
– the limestone hills, the loess bluffs, the forest
and the sand
dunes, the rills and knobs and kittles. But the people
who know the place only by driving through it know the flatness.
Martone reminders readers that parts of Indiana
were once wetlands,
as evident by the yearly flooding in Fort Wayne:
This region was once a swamp, and a wetland
might serve as an appropriate metaphor for what it still
is. Things percolate constantly through this place. The
region is spongy with its own mobility, but resilient in
its steeping. It seems to float and stay put. (115)
Later, Martone comments on the destruction
of the natural wetland habitat by those trying to tame the
land: “These towns reflect the desire
to create a rational, classical civilization in the wilderness.
O brave new world!” (115-116). Martone ironically references
Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World, in which
an artificial utopia is created. While this world looks perfect
on the outside, to some of its citizens it is meaningless,
empty, and destructive. Martone's allusion suggests that those
who destroyed the wilderness to create organization and order
actually created only a facade of these desired qualities.
While The Flatness and
Other Landscapes takes a somewhat serious look at Indiana
landscapes, Martone’s The Blue Guide
to Indiana provides a satirical look
at the state's urban environments. He combines fact with fiction
to create a completely different Indiana that somehow still
seems familiar to native Hoosiers. Martone comments sarcastically
on the urban
sprawl that is rampant in Indiana:
Over the last several years, an Indianapolis drug company
has been quietly purchasing a wide swath of swamp land and
marginally profitable farms near the town of Martinsville.
Recently, this bucolic setting has been transformed by a
prodigious collection of construction equipment—earth
movers and cranes, dump trucks and bulldozers—as the
pharmaceutical giant breaks ground for an unprecedented
new project opening in the spring of the year 2003: Eli
Lilly Land. (71)
In the chapter entitled “Scenic Waste Disposal
and Storage Sites,” Martone talks of the “field
of light bulbs,” and the “mothball fleet of garbage
From the world’s tallest smokestack the exhaust mingles
with the prevailing westerly wind. Lit by the retreating
light, the eastward spreading plume, which extends for miles,
is phosphorescent in the gloaming and can, when conditions
are right, create its own weather.... (82)
Martone describes a scene that seems almost
pleasant. That is, of course, until one realizes that the
situation is created by pollution
rising into the air via a smokestack.
Martone uses evocative language, sarcasm, and
wit throughout his works to convey his feelings about Indiana.
He has strong views regarding the state of the environment
in Indiana today, and he makes these views apparent in his
Maliszewski, Paul. "Michael Martone."
Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Short-Story
Writers since World War II. 2000.
Martone, Michael. The Blue Guide to
Indiana. Normal, IL: Fiction Collective Two, 2001.
Flatness and Other Landscapes. Athens, GA: Georgia UP, 2000.
"Michael Martone." Contemporary
Authors: New Revision Series. 2001.
Publicity photo courtesy of Michael Martone.
(Web del Sol)