Tiffany Midge has always approached her writing with a sense of wry humor — whether it’s about politics, her mother’s death, or the sociopolitical ramifications of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
She doesn’t shy away from poking fun at any topic, instinctively using soft puns or slicing satire, depending on the subject.
“I think it’s definitely always been a part of my work,” Midge said. “Here I am again, doing that beat again. I think it was stirred by the (2016) election and it was my response to the whole thing.”
Midge’s newest book, “Bury My Heart at Chuck. E Cheese’s” (out Oct. 1 through Bison Books), has plenty to say, and plenty of jokes, on Trump, pop culture and the specificities of Native American life in 2019 America.
An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and a former columnist for Indian Country Today, Midge has deep roots in commentating on Native American culture alongside wider American culture.
She likes the way feminist writer Caitlin Kunkel termed it on Live Wire Radio: “staring down colonialism and laughing in its face.”
Kirkus Reviews put it this way: “The laughter isn’t frivolous, Midge suggests, but rather a way of thumbing a nose at death and the dominant culture.”
Midge is excited to present “Bury My Heart” at her Montana Book Festival reading, though she’s well aware her audience is likely to be made up of mostly non-Natives.
She plans to read sections of her book that deal with Rachel Dolezal — a former NAACP leader in Washington state who in 2015 was revealed to be a white woman posing as black — and the idea of fake Natives, who Midge said make up a large portion of Natives in her estimation.
“A lot of folks are coming new to a lot of issues in Indian Country and it’s good to be able to talk about those things,” Midge said. “Maybe get some education.”
She’s not looking to lecture, which is where the humor comes in. Rather, it’s a variation on the idea that the best way to understand a culture is through its humor.
“We’re all capable of empathy. And we’re all capable of humor,” Midge said. And her book has a lot of “inside humor.”
“If you are new, and you are learning about a new culture, that’s a good place to start from,” she said.
From the 2017 piece “Bury My Heart at Chuck. E Cheese's”:
“I want my remains spread at Disneyland,” my mother says. “But I don’t want to be cremated. Just leave my parts.”
“Okay. I promise.”
“You can bury my heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s.”
“Okay. You got it.”
“Bury my heart at Sea World.”
“I will, Mama.”
“I will fight no more about putting the toothpaste cap on, forever.”
We were two Indian women, laughing until our bellies ached, spitting death right in the eye.
Midge is also leading a poetry workshop during the festival, on the topic of incorporating humor and satire into poetry. She said, even if humor comes naturally to a writer, it takes a lot of work to write jokes that land.
“I had a lot of jokes that weren’t very good and I probably still have a lot of jokes that aren’t very good,” she laughed.
“It doesn’t sound hilarious, but it definitely can be,” she said. “It’s like an open letter. And a lot of people thought it was really funny, but a lot of people felt personally vindicated.”
Midge will also be reading for the Erotic Fan Fiction event, themed this year around '80s TV shows.
She was still in the brainstorming phase the week before the festival and had some ideas floating around, like maybe “Little House on the Prairie” with a tentacle porn scene. She’s been watching episodes of “Family Ties” as well, but thought that might be too taboo.
“It’s always a challenge when you have a writing prompt,” Midge said. “You just mash up various things and play around.”