The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere: A Memoir

By Debra Marquart

Counterpoint Press, New York, NY, 2006, 288 pages, softcover or hardcover.

Debra Marquart receives 2006 Joseph S. Height Award of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, from Lewis Marquardt.

See these book reviews for The Horizontal World:

  1. New York Times
  2. Chicago Tribune
  3. Edna Boardman
  4. Des Moines Register
  5. Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  6. Plain Folk Column
  7. Iowa's Enlightening Magazine
The Horizontal World -- Recent News

Related Articles:

Collin, Liz, "Leaving Home." North Dakota Humanities Council, On Second Thought, 2009, 36-38

Debra Marquart Speaks and Preforms at Velva Public School Library, 7 March 2009

Gauper, Larry Gauper. "A Quick Trip to Europe." The FM Extra, June 26, Volume 8, Issue 26, 3.

Marquart, Debra. "Refusing Nostalgia: On Geographical Flight and Cultural Amnesia." North Dakota Humanities Council, Winter 10, 14-19.

Palimpesest By Debra Marquart

Review by Edna Boardman

Review by Beth Kephart

Review by John Dominic

Review by Tom Isern

Review by Katy Read

Review by Julia Scheeres

Debra Marquart grew up on a family farm in rural North Dakota - on land her family had worked for generations. From the earliest age she knew she wanted out; surely life had more to offer than this unyielding daily grind, she thought. But she was never able to abandon it completely. In this distinctive, beautifully written memoir, she chronicles this process of flight and return-not only from and to a particular landscape, but to respect and admiration for her father.

Complex, lyrical, utterly unsentimental, often funny, Marquart's singular voice offers a deeply intelligent rumination on the meaning of native ground, on freedom and security, and on the forging of identity. It brings to mind the very best of those who have written about the natural world and a sense of place - John McPhee, Wallace Stegner, and Kathleen Norris among them.

Text from the book jacket:

"North Dakota is best known to outsiders as a spectacularly cold and inhospitable place that anyone with sense must leave. But how can a person who is born of such heart-stopping, occasionally cruel beauty truly escape its singular pull? Though Debra Marquart would be the first to admit that for a long time her favorite view of her home state was the one in the rearview mirror, she will also fiercely defend that land and the rare strength of the people who stay behind. Rise from Marquart's need to make sense of her struggle to reconcile such disparate feelings, The Horizontal World blends autobiography, geography, and mythology as it reveals the tension between the keepers of the land and those who cut themselves free.

From the earliest age, Marquart knows she wanted out - out of the milking barn, out of the nearly empty nest her farmhouse home had become once her four older siblings moved away, out of the harvests and the blizzards and the long dusty summer days full of nothing but hard work. Surely life had more to offer than this unyielding daily grind. But even after she got good at leaving, she kept coming back. It is this process of flight - from both the landscape and the family - and the return that Marquart writes about so exquisitely.

Drawing on the classic literature of the Midwest, as well as land survey, death certificates, and many other pieces of anecdotal evidence, Marquart weaves together the meaning of native ground as she ruminates on the forging of identity. Whether she is writing about her great-grandmother dying in childbirth, Lawrence Welk's early days, the glaciers that shaped her back yard, or her father's quiet struggle with heart disease, Marquart's sense of the absurd and her graceful poeticism combine to make The Horizontal World a captivating read."

From The Horizontal world

"The day before I left home from college, I took a photograph of the road leading out of my parents' farm - the long driveway stretching out to the open wheat fields and the gaint tops of the cottonwoods reaching up to the sky. The photograph must have been taken in late afternoon. The shadows are long. The light is cast in gold and bronze, the sweet color of memory.

The picture of home was one undeveloped frame in my camera, the first in a succession of images I planned to collect of more interesting places. I got myself on that road, and I did not wave back. I concentrated only on flight.

And for a long time, it seemed to me, North Dakota looked best only when glanced at briefly while adjusting the rearview mirrow."

About the author

Debra Marquart is an associate professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at Iowa State University.  Ms. Marquart's work has appeared in numerous journals such as North American Review, Three Penny Review, New Letters, RiverCity, Crab Orchard Review, Cumberland Poetry Review, The Sun Magazine, Orion, Southern Poetry Review, and Witness.  A performance poet, Marquart is the author of two poetry collections:  Everything’s a Verb (New Rivers Press, 1995) and From Sweetness (Pearl Editions, 2002).

In the seventies and eighties, Marquart was a touring road musician with rock and heavy metal bands.  Her collection of short stories, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories (New Rivers Press, 2001) draws from her experiences as a female road musician.  Marquart continues to perform with a jazz-poetry rhythm & blues project, The Bone People, with whom she released two CDs in 1996:  Orange Parade (acoustic rock); and A Regular Dervish (jazz-poetry). 

Marquart’s work has received numerous awards and commendations, including the John Guyon Nonfiction Award (Crab Orchard Review), the Mid-American Review Nonfiction Award, The Headwater’s Prize from New Rivers Press, the Minnesota Voices Award, the Pearl Poetry Award (Pearl Editions), the Shelby Foote Prize for the Essay from the Faulkner Society, and a Pushcart Prize.

Marquart’s biomythography/memoir, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, was published from Counterpoint Books in 2006.  She is currently at work on a novel, set in Greece, titled The Olive Harvest.

Comments about the book

“Here is the truth: a life deeply regarded. I read this book with fascination, page after page.”

—Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong and The Tie That Binds 


 “The Horizontal World is as full of grit and grace as the North Dakota farmland it portrays. Debra Marquart writes of home and how we carry it with us no matter the miles and years we travel. If you dare think that nothing really happens out there in the middle of nowhere, read this gorgeous book about a family and their land, about the girl who strained against both and finally left. From the first words, you’ll feel a taproot set down in your heart, one that won’t let go because the story is as old as the land itself. You know the one--that story of mothers and fathers and daughters and sons, that rough and tender story of the ties that bind.”

—Lee Martin, author of From Our House and The Bright Forever


From the first word, Marquart (The Hunger Bone) makes clear that she's got some reckoning to do with her home place, damning horny farmboys and the "seeds" they plant in the first paragraph of this rich memoir of growing up on a North Dakota farm. She got out as soon as she could, looking back only years later when her father's death pulls her home. Marquart explores her childhood as a victim of endless chores (wryly noting the word chores is "always plural") and isolation that was unbearable, especially for a contact-hungry teen. Everything Marquart touches gains light and color, from the monotony of the work and the tactics she developed to avoid it to the land itself and the untold price her foremothers paid to settle it. All of her narrative's wanderlust, however, brings her back to her father, sowing insight into his respect for her pursuit of a different life and her growing connection to how he lived his.                                                            
  Publisher’s Weekly

Debra Marquart autographing her book at the North Dakota Library Association Convention, Fargo, North Dakota, September, 2006

Debra Marquart, autographing her book.
Debra Marquart signing book for Marlene Ripplinger, Public Library, Harvey, ND.
Debra Marquart and Iris Dockter Swedlund, Public/School Library, Velva, ND.
Debra Marquart autographing book for Jan Daley, executive director, North Dakota Humanities Council, Bismarck, ND.

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