Dawn Quigley, assistant professor of education, became a published novelist with her debut book, Apple in the Middle. The coming-of-age young adult novel follows Apple Starkington, who is both white and Native American, like Quigley. Her name, Apple, signifies the complexity she feels about her identity: Native on the outside, and white on the inside. One summer, Apple visits her relatives on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation for the first time, and the story unfolds.
Quigley is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe in North Dakota. “My dad is Scandinavian. My mom is Native American,” says Quigley. “I always say that figuratively I grew up with both Native American fry bread and lefse on the table.”
Her two daughters, who each began their first year of high school and college this fall, were part of Quigley’s inspiration for her first novel. “They’ll never have the opportunity to spend time with my grandparents up in the Turtle Mountain Reservation because they’ve passed on,” explains Quigley.
While Quigley has had poetry, essays, and academic articles published, she describes the motivation behind writing a novel as a very different process. “I just kept having this story walk around in my mind,” she said. “It literally would not go away until I would write it down.” So, Quigley started writing two pages a day until, about nine months later, she had written a book.
She also drew inspiration from the K-12 and college students she’s taught over 18 years as an educator. “So many of our students have multiple identities: multiple racial backgrounds, multiple religions, multiple languages. It doesn’t seem like you belong in one or the other, so you’re kind of in this third space,” she explained. “That's what this book is really about.”
Quigley is passionate about showing Native American culture and traditions. “Native people are still here. We’ve adapted and changed, but our culture is still strong and we’re strong,” said Quigley. As Apple visits her relatives in the book and learns about contemporary Native customs, the reader does too.
“I’m tired of the negative stereotypes,” says Quigley. Often times, the darker aspects of Native American characters are highlighted. “It’s not something we need to wash over,” said Quigley, “but I wanted to bring out the Native humor and the strong family ties that I grew up with—and they were really positive. The grandparents in here,” she said, pointing at the book she cradles in her lap, “really are my grandparents.”