When an author writes, it’s like a ship within a glass bottle. Every life experience forms a piece, and those pieces are put together until the spirit, the very essence of what the author is, becomes apparent within the work.
Such is the case with Brandon Hobson and his latest novel “Where the Dead Sit Talking.”
A member of the Cherokee Nation, Hobson grew up in El Reno before earning a Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University.
He now teaches composition, creative writing and literature at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, and he has still managed to write and publish several novels, the latest of which has been nominated for the 2018 National Book Awards.
“It’s set in a fictional town in Oklahoma called Little Crow,” said Hobson. “I wanted to explore writing about Native characters because I’d never done it before.”
The novel centers around a character named Sequoyah, a young Cherokee who is placed into foster care at 15 after his mother is taken away on drug charges. He forms a deep connection with his foster sister, Rosemary, thanks in part to their shared Native American heritage.
More than that, however, Sequoyah sees himself in Rosemary.
“He becomes obsessed with her. They share the Native culture, dress style, music and books. He is reminded of himself when he looks at her. Rosemary dreamed he had come to her before they even met, so they have a sort of mystical connection. In my imagination, I heard the voice of Sequoyah, so it was sort of like letting the character write the story.”
Within the novel’s pages, the history of Hobson’s Native American heritage is explored through metaphor. The result is a confident work of fiction that is sure to please those connected with the culture as well as all lovers of dynamic stories.
“I was interested in the question ‘What is home?’ from the perspective of a foster kid. Sequoyah is kicked out of homes much like the tribes were kicked out of their own land.”
The book was published in February of 2018. Prior to that, one of its passages, “Past the Econolodge” won the prestigious Pushcart Prize of 2016.
Since then, rave reviews and a deep appreciation for Hobson’s relatable narrative has caused its popularity to skyrocket, earning the attention of the National Book Foundation.
The agency has existed since 1950, and a plethora of books from various categories are judged every year in the nationwide competition. Hundreds of fiction titles were submitted this year, and Hobson’s book has made it to the finals.
The 69th Annual National Book Awards will be held in New York at the New School on Nov. 14. The panel of judges is made up of seasoned writers, and they will judge categories including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books and translated literature.
For Hobson, the final decision between the books isn’t as important as the honor of simply being nominated.
“I feel like I’ve already won. To be a finalist alone is a life-changing experience.”
The event will be live-streamed, and the winner for each category will receive $1,000 and a chance to read their book to a crowd.
For Hobson, nearly every detail and experience of his life becomes a fountain of inspiration for his creative works.
“Reading fiction inspires me. I enjoy the works of Don DeLillo, N. Scott Momaday, William Gaddis and many others. Watching people and listening to people also inspires me.”
Hobson has been writing seriously for the past 20 years, but he has had a keen interest in music and the arts for as long as he can remember. More than anything, his career represents who he is and what his personality compels him to do — create.
“I wanted to start big and work my way from there. I wrote for a while even without any kind of publication, just because it’s who I am. We create art because that’s who we are as people. Any outside attention is a bonus, but we do it to complete ourselves. Reading and writing fiction have helped me become a more empathetic and understanding person throughout my life. That’s why I teach it and why I love doing it — it makes me a better person.”
Hobson offers an important piece of advice for aspiring writers.
“Read wisely, and don’t be in a huge rush. Take your time and do it solely for yourself, not just trying to please others.”
“Where the Dead Sit Talking” is published under the Soho Independent Press of New York, distributed by Penguin Books. It is available wherever books are sold, and can be purchased online at Amazon.com. For more information about the author and the contest, visit brandonhobson.com and nationalbook.org.