Get to Know M.M. De Voe
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.
If you're interested, here's more about her name and why the "M".
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 disappointment in one's lifestyle 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 bicycles 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 Massachusetts 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.
On Halloween night, 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. M renamed the reading series in 2010 and self-funded the first Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents that same year. She pushed the series to become an organization while family obligations eventually caused Arlaina to move on. The breakup was tearstained and tragic, but the friendship remained. The Salon's second curator was Brian Gresko and the third was (and is) the vibrant Christina Chiu, author of the award-winning novel Beauty. By 2014, the organization was a 501c3 and the Salons were listed in the New Yorker and were Critic's Picks in TimeOutNY. The Pen Parentis Literary Salons would celebrate the diversity of creative work by more than 300 writers who were also parents: including such incredible names as Jennifer Egan, Tina Chang, Darin Strauss, Victor LaValle and Emily Raboteau, Austin Ratner, Cara Hoffman, Amy Shearn, Arthur Phillips, Lev Grossman, Carla DuPree, Min Jin Lee, Jennifer Probst, and Kelly Link.
Pen Parentis now had a mission: to help writers stay on creative track after they started a family. It received its 501c3 thanks to the generous pro bono work of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy 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, and continues to award an annual Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents, and creating and curating The Pen Parentis Cycle of Support: an online and an in-person supportive community for parent-writers that includes Accountability Groups.
There is a lot of press about how Pen Parentis was founded and what it does - you can find it on the Press tab of this website.
M 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 MM De Voe, reach out to her directly via her Facebook page or on Twitter. To read her work, just click on the proper tab and choose among books, fiction, nonfiction, and other and enjoy! Poetry, musicals, speculative fiction, horror, and random other quirky things are all there.