Born to a traditional Lithuanian family of six in College Station, Texas, "M" (as her writer-friends call her) was raised Catholic and bilingual by an organic chemistry researcher and a Montessori directress. She knows all there is to know about being an insider, an outcast, and an experiment. At 15, she left home for two years to attend the Private Litauisches Gymnasium in Huttenfeld West Germany, a town even smaller than the one she'd grown up in. There she learned German, drank apfel schnapps and philosophized in cemeteries, vineyards and in hunting castles, and danced for the last living Ottoman prince, as well as his Holiness the Pope John Paul II.
She returned to Texas for her last year of high school and took on her first paid writing assignment as PR Rep for JETS (the Junior Engineering and Technical Society). The junior engineers she befriended there gave her a lifelong love of science and wordplay. She then won an Optimist Club scholarship by writing an essay and got the hell out of Texas for college. (She loves Texas, but in the way one might love a rich and personable aunt who is constantly expressing disapointment in one's lifetstyle choices).
She attended a small but feisty Catholic women's college in Baltimore which recently rebranded itself to be called Notre Dame University of Maryland--a tragedy in her opinion--while she was a resident there, it was the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Yes, really: "CONDOM."
Studying with the nuns gave her a grounding in all the basic rules of life, and taught her how to successfully break them. While she was in attendance, the most common sight on campus was Srs. Gerold and Vincent: a pair of bleached-blonde nuns that rode bicycyles and did graphic design. One of the sisters looked like Andy Warhol. The other had a shaved nape with rat's-tail to her shoulders.
It was brilliant.
M spent her college days running clubs: she was class president, revived a musical competition called Sing Song, founded a theater club, directed Godspell (was it brilliant or cliche to have all the leads be female except for Judas?), led the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honor Society)... M was also an honor student--in the Morrissey Society, on the Dean's List, and so forth.
In her Junior year, she was in a John Waters movie for the first month of summer (Cry Baby) and when it wrapped, she met a group of jugglers who taught her 3-Ball then whisked her off to Massachusettts to live with them. This is a true, but very long story. It involves trash cans, hats, and fire. She still attends their annual New Year's party, now a week long, and in its third decade.
Back at college, she took a form-poetry writing class in her senior year and submitted her final project, a vilanelle, to a national poetry magazine's contest. She won $1,000 and got an A. Still, she was not convinced she was a writer. She was far more interested in performance and politics. Her senior year weekends were spent in Washington DC, where she and other Lithuanians would demonstrate for Freedom for the Baltic States.
Once, she was dressed in white with a big black tear painted on her face and wrapped in chains in front of the White House lawn, and a middle-aged lawyer sneered at her. "Hell will freeze over before Lithuania is free," he said. "You're wasting your time."
Not two months later, on March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union. M graduated in May of that year and moved to New York City, having won a spot at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Two years later, she was a married, working actress in New York.
In the late 1990s (this sounds like ancient history!) she applied to Columbia University because she had gotten married on the campus and thought the place looked academic enough to take teaching seriously. (Her parents, while valuing education highly, were immigrants and had never known that such a thing as the Ivy League existed--so neither did she.)
Her teachers at Columbia included then PEN-America President Michael Scammell, Richard Nicholas DelBanco, Joyce Johnson (whose cat once nearly clawed out M's eyes), Helen Schulman (who told the class to "look right and left and do not let these friends go") Poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Howard, Stephen Koch, and her favorite, Michael Cunningham, whose quote: "I'm writing a novel about Virginia Woolfe and my mother, is that stupid?" continues to be her writing inspiration to this day. Her thesis adviser was Matthew Sharpe. Most of her classmates have gone on to brilliant literary careers including Mat Johnson, Sarah Langan, Victor LaValle, Nelly Rosario, Maribeth Batcha, Christina Chiu, and many many more... She was surrounded by greatness.
She graduated with her MFA as a Writing Fellow in May of 2001: two weeks prior to her graduation, her beloved chemist-father died suddenly, and two weeks after her graduation, she and her husband closed on their apartment...one block away from the WTC Towers that were going to be hit by a plane only twelve weeks later.
Her Talk of the Town piece about her experiences during the event was bumped by the New Yorker in favor of Susan Sontag's controversial essay--probably a good thing, in the end, but at the time it led to several weeks of writer's block. The inch of dust and the need to replace every electronic and fabric item in the entire apartment also added to a feeling of despair.
In October, 2001, she found she was pregnant and in July had her first child, a son. In October 2006 this was followed by the birth of a daughter. In January 2009, she founded the Pen Parentis After-Work Reading Series with her friend and former Columbia classmate, Arlaina Tibensky. They ran the series for several years, developing the idea into a Salon that would celebrate the diversity of creative work by writers who were also parents - when family comittments caused Arlaina to move on.
M continued to develop the idea and in 2014, Pen Parentis, Ltd--with a mission to provide resources to writers to help them stay on creative track after starting a family--received its 501c3 and M became the organization's first executive director, as well as the president of the original board. Under her leadership, as ED, the organization continues to host monthly Literary Salons which are open to the public, as well as running a writing fellowship for new parents, and creating and curating an online and an in-person community for parent-writers.
She has not stopped writing. Her explorations of identity through fiction have brought her to write in nearly every genre: literary fiction, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, poetry, musical theater...she has had work published and/or produced in all of these genres, and has won writing awards for most.
To find out more about MMDeVOE, just click the "Press" tab to access many interviews in print and podcast. Or reach out to her directly via her Facebook page or on Twitter. To read her work, just click on the read tab and choose between fiction, poetry, and nonfiction and enjoy!