Novelist wrestles with history

Graduate Student Spotlight: Kevin McColley


PhD student in Creative Writing

I am currently writing a novel (entitled Man of God) that explores the early settlement of the uppermost of the upper-midwestern United States and the clash of the Ojibway, Lakota, and European-American cultures that occurred there as the American frontier pushed west, culminating in the 1862 Lakota Uprising in southern Minnesota that resulted in the deaths of as many as three thousand European-American settlers. Writing historical fiction is a research challenge: ferreting accounts that can be trusted, and, for those that can’t be, understanding why they were written as they were written. For Man of God, I was fortunate to find memoirs of the first missionaries to the region in the 1840s, as well as eye-witness accounts of the uprising from both Lakota and European-American perspectives. My job now is to meld all that information into an engaging, yet accurate, account. At a deeper level, Man of God explores the nature of historical fiction in contemporary America—a “western,” in a time and place where the assumptions and mores of the traditional western novel are, thankfully, either seriously challenged or already overthrown.

I have published six novels, the last two of which were nominated by their publisher, Simon and Schuster, for the National Book Award. I am a military veteran, and a thread that runs through all my published work (as well as Man of God) is the theme of war and especially war trauma, how those who suffer from war deal with that suffering, and how American society accepts or refuses to accept the war-wounded who have returned to it.