The Gift of Michael Martone

SARAH COFFING | CULTURE EDITOR

Photo courtesy of Michael Martone

Photo courtesy of Michael Martone

When looking at Michael Martone, one would see a distinguished man with snow-white hair clad in a black pinstripe suit, a red bowtie and a beige fedora.

One would never guess that in his younger years, Martone and his buddies were the culprits behind Butler University’s Ross Hall becoming “Gross Hall” with a little bit of adhesive and a lot of boredom.

“You’re too serious now,” he smiles.

But behind the pristine apparel and the attentive eyes that hang onto every word lies a man who adores pranks, the idea of the gift economy, writing and the Midwest.

Martone was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and attended Butler University for five semesters before transferring and receiving his English degree from Indiana University.

He has taught creative writing at Syracuse University, Harvard University and the University of Iowa. Since 1996, he has been teaching at The University of Alabama.

As an author, Martone is best known for his sense of humor.

His most famous works are pieces about Indiana, a series of contributor’s notes and several fake biographies, including an autobiography titled “Michael Martone.”

While he was a student at Butler University, Martone was greatly involved with Manuscripts, the university’s student literary magazine.

In fact, he wrote so much for the magazine that the publications “looked like little Martone chapbooks,” said English department chair Andrew Levy.

Professor Bryan Furuness, who is now the faculty advisor for Manuscripts, has also been influenced by Martone’s passion for literature.

The two met when Furuness was a grad student and Martone was an up-and-coming professor.

Furuness has lived in Indiana all his life, so he had been exposed to the Hoosier niceness, but he said growing up in Gary, Indiana had taught him to often distrust niceness. But the two become fast friends, and the amity continues today.

Furuness and Martone recently finished a co-written anthology entitled “Winesburg, Indiana,” which is set to be published in spring 2015.

“When I was growing up, I would tell people, ‘I’m going to write about Indiana,’” Martone said. “And they would say, ‘Why?’”

The idea lies behind the novel “Mythology” by Edith Hamilton, also a Fort Wayne native.

After reading this novel, Martone said he realized that just like the ancient Greeks, Indiana and the Midwest had their own set of beautiful stories just waiting to be told.

The only problem was, they were being overlooked.

“Stories are happening all around us,” he said. “The whole idea of writing is to make you see again the things you’ve taken for granted and glossed over.”

To help spread this idea, Martone returned to Butler University on Oct. 24 to present the Patricia and Anthony Martone Endowed Gift Fund, which is meant to help promote and encourage writing about Indiana and the Midwest.

Martone specifically instructed that the university treat the grant not as an award, but a gift.

Awards, he said, take away the fun of writing. If the grant were used as something to be earned, students would only be reaching for the prize rather than experiencing joy that comes with the discovery of writing.

“The kind of gift I’m talking about is more like a lottery,” he said. “You take it and turn it into something you can give back.”

The value of the grant is not the money, but the experience and the art that comes out of it, he said.

To receive an application, call ENGLISH at (317) 940-9293.

In all, Martone said he wants us to open our eyes to those things we often take for granted in the Midwest–the corn, the sunsets, and the common pleasantries of those around us.

“All I can say to you is be playful. Discover things,” he said. “Promise me you’ll do this. Take your finals in formalwear. Go in there completely quaffed with a tuxedo like it’s an everyday occurrence. Then take a picture of that and Yik Yak me.”

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