Melissa Faliveno is a writer, editor, musician, teacher, and Wisconsinite in New York City. Her debut essay collection, TOMBOYLAND, was published by Topple Books on August 4, 2020. Her essays and interviews have appeared in Esquire, Paris Review, Bitch, Ms. Magazine, the Millions, Prairie Schooner, No Tokens, DIAGRAM, and Midwestern Gothic, among others, and received a notable selection in Best American Essays 2016. An essay about her life as a roller derby skater (moniker: Harlot Brontë) was published in the anthology Derby Life (Gutpunch Press, 2015). Born and raised in small-town Wisconsin and a first-generation college graduate, Melissa received a BA in English and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin and an MFA in nonfiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College, where she also teaches in the graduate writing program. She has taught writing to incarcerated men, high school students, and adults, and has led talks, interviews, workshops, and panels about writing and publishing at conferences and events across the United States and abroad. The former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the producer and cohost of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast, Melissa was previously an editor at Trails Books, an independent nonfiction press focused on Midwestern culture, sports, and travel; and a freelance features reporter and columnist for Isthmus, Madison, Wisconsin’s alt weekly. She is the 2020-21 Kenan Visiting Writer at UNC–Chapel Hill, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is the cofounding nonfiction editor of the arts and literature zine Black Rabbit Review, and a singer and guitarist in the indie rock band Self Help, which released its first LP, Maybe It’s You, in Fall 2018. Melissa is represented by Adriann Ranta Zurhellen of Foundry Literary + Media.
In this intrepid debut essay collection, Melissa Faliveno traverses the liminal spaces of her childhood in working-class Wisconsin and the paths she’s traveled since, compelled by questions of girlhood and womanhood, queerness and class, and how the lands of our upbringing both define and complicate us even long after we’ve left. Part personal narrative, part cultural reportage, TOMBOYLAND navigates midwestern traditions, mythologies, landscapes, and lives to explore the intersections of identity and place. From F5 tornadoes and fast-pitch softball to gun culture, strange glacial terrains, kink party potlucks, and the question of motherhood, TOMBOYLAND asks curious and critical questions about belonging and the body, isolation and community, and what we mean when we use words like woman, family, and home.
PRAISE FOR TOMBOYLAND
A “winning debut collection” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
“Faliveno’s dynamic essay collection inhabits the spaces in-between—male and female, Wisconsin and New York, personal and political, fear and desire—and probes the profound paradoxes of personhood.” —OPRAH MAGAZINE
THE MOST ANTICIPATED DEBUTS OF 2020 —ELECTRIC LITERATURE
“Tomboyland is everything I want an essay collection to be: beautiful, smart, difficult, honest, hopeful, and haunting, just like the experiences it depicts. It is a book that charts the history of a body against the land that defines it. It is a song for anyone who felt at once estranged and inextricably bound to a place. Melissa Faliveno has written a gorgeously complex ode to the Midwest that is destined to be passed urgently from hand to hand, an anthem sung by all the misfits in those vast places who have not yet seen themselves written.” —Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me
“Tomboyland, Melissa Faliveno’s excellent collection of essays on growing up in Wisconsin and then beyond it, will give many people permission to be who they are and to write into and about where they’re from. It will also show you how and when to leave that place, and how you can’t ever leave it completely. Each essay carries Faliveno’s Wisconsin inside it and made me want to lift weights in a dingy gym, welcome a moth infestation, kick ass at softball, rewatch Twister, and even visit Mount Horeb, the ‘Troll Capital of the World.’ If it can work on me this fast, I can only imagine what this book will do to you.” —Ander Monson, author of I Will Take the Answer and Neck Deep and Other Predicaments
“These essays showcase, via hard-won displays, a twenty-first-century mind working to understand itself. Among the many treats of Tomboyland is how Melissa Faliveno’s self-investigation doesn’t just look inward to memory, experience, or feelings. Over the course of this book, she also looks externally in her quest for personal knowledge—turning to archives, interviews, and journalistic immersion. Such an extensive and dogged scope shows both how unique and how interconnected a single life can be. In Faliveno’s deft hands, we experience all that builds a consciousness—food and sex and softball, dark bars and sprawling landscapes, roller derbies and deep conversations, and the F5 tornado that is human love.” —Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses
“In these smartly constructed, urgently delivered essays on class, gender, violence, rage, love, and sexuality—issues as entwined in these pages as they are in life—Melissa Faliveno brilliantly scrutinizes our most contemporary, most vital questions of self and culture. I didn’t just read Tomboyland, I scribbled in its pages, photographed its passages, pressed it on friends, and felt an urgent need to talk about it. It will spark conversations that will become conflagrations. Tomboyland is a blaze of a book, as fiery and expansive as the Midwestern sky.” —Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
“I felt Melissa Faliveno’s Midwest on a gut level—its F5 tornadoes, its rolling prairies, its bighearted people working their asses off. I grew up here, but it’s okay if you didn’t; Tomboyland will show you, tangling your body in place and the overwhelming need to both go back home and get the hell out. Faliveno’s deeply felt and deeply researched essays—part personal narrative, part cultural criticism—feature softballs and guns, dresses and babies and bondage. They interrogate gender and expectations, what it means to be a family, to build a home in this beautiful mess of a world. My brain is still buzzing. So is my heart.” —Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
“In Tomboyland, Melissa Faliveno examines the spaces, selves, histories, and futures that live in the distance between binaries: between the bodies we have and the ones we claim, between the homes that have made us and those we have made for ourselves. This is a remarkable debut. I am grateful for the arrival of this bold new voice.” —Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings
“Tomboyland works through unlikely juxtaposition—tornadoes alongside God, vegetarianism alongside kink, guns alongside love. It is a coming-of-age story where everything is examined, everything is questioned, where the word driftless is both a region and a state of mind. At one point Faliveno’s mother, while cooking meat, states, ‘If I think about it, then I have to look at my whole life.’ Faliveno takes this as a challenge, as she builds a life for us before our eyes. It is, in the end, about the nature of relationships, of love, of being alive.” —Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking Is the Bomb