Finnish North American Literature Association
Biographical Information (In her own words)
I married James Hill, of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, in 1989. His grandfather,
William Hill, died in the collapse of the Barnes-Hecker iron mine at Ishpeming,
Michigan, in 1926. William Hill’s family had hailed from Kuortane, in Vaasa
province, and their name was Sellakamaki (no one seems able to verify that). So I’
m a Finn only by marriage. In our living room we have a poster from the National
Museum in Stockholm celebrating (in 1987) eight hundred years of
Swedish/Finnish unity. My maiden name is Hokanson and my ancestors, who were
fisher-families, came from the provinces of Skane and Bohuslan.
My second husband, James Hill, is Finnish; we met at the University of Iowa though
we had both done our master’s at Michigan. I had eleven children when he married
me. Is that sisu or what? Our youngest daughter, Maria, named after two Finnish
great-grandmothers Maria, looks like a full-out Finn. I am a Swede, myself, and in
graduate school I studied Swedish as one of my foreign languages. (Chinese was
My philosophy of life is probably best expressed in my fiction, most recently my
novel, “Ursula, Under.” My work values the particularity of place and heritage and
Its values? Hope (which happens to be my oldest daughter’s name), love,
perseverance, close attention to the world and the Spirit.
When my husband explained the concept of sisu to me, I had no trouble
understanding: a woman who has been abandoned with eleven children either has
it or she goes under.
I am delighted with the individuality and intelligence of my children’s life-choices:
four are married (there are nine grandchildren so far), four are in college. One is a
professional writer, one a musician and teacher of music, one a sports
psychologist, one a web site designer, one a videographer. One, who I knew from
diaper days would want to be a hands-on builder, has his own home renovation
business. I’m sure a number of those callings will change. One of my in-between
daughters has majored in French, another in Art History. My second-youngest son
is preparing to enter law school, and my youngest son is majoring in neurobiology.
Only Maria is still at home and is a freshman in high school. I know this doesn’t add
up to twelve but if you use an intergalactic base-XII number system it will work out.
I hope to live long and write much more fiction, both novels and short stories.
Publications, presentations, and awards
"Drinking From Our Own Wells: Empowerment Strategies in the Literature
Classroom," (An Approach via Liberation Theology), Grad Students in English
Conference, Ohio State, Fall 1987.
"The Long Sherry Netherland Hunger: the Short Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist,"
American Culture Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, Spring 1988.
"Offering the Witch's Tit: Nurturing and Subversion in the Teaching of Creative
Writing," Graduate Students in English Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Fall
"Heavy Metal Meets the Ancient Heart: A Modernist Teaches the Classics,"
National Conference on Classics and the Core Curriculum, Denton, Texas, Winter
"A Man With a Slow Hand: the Pornographic Impulse in William Styron's The
Confessions of Nat Turner: American Culture Association, St. Louis, Missouri,
"Epistolary Rhetoric with Jiao-Zi: A Cross-Cultural Investigation into the Relational
Possibilities of Letter-Writing.,”. Grad Students in English Conference, Iowa City,
"Dancing the Lady Liberty Tango: Chinese Students' Views on Democracy,"
American Culture Association, Toronto, Ontario, Spring 1990.
"Four Saints, Three Acts, Six Mansions, and One Little Dog: Gertrude Stein as
Oppositional Mystic," Twentieth Century Literature Conference, Louisville, Feb., '91
"Zhang Xianliang's Mimosa: Woman as Eucharist in the Novel of the New China."
Midwest Feminist Graduate Students' Conference, Purdue, February 1991
"Dragon for Dinner, Side Order of Flaming Eyes: Heroism in Maxine Hong
Kingston's The Woman Warrior" Fantasy and Science Fiction Conference,
Riverside, California, April 1991
"Jacob's Ladder, Alvin's Turkey: Teaching Peace through Images of War," Society
for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, (Images of War), Colorado
Springs, Mar. 1992
"Hildegarde, Hopkins, & the Mystic Cloud of Witnesses: Images of God in Nature,"
SISSI, Colorado Springs, March 1993
"For Nureyev and For Pahoehoe: Chaos Theory as Applied to the Teaching of
Creative Writing," Colloquium on Chaos Theory Across the Disciplines, Western
Washington University, April 1993
"A Poetics of 'Trailer-Park' Class," SISSI, (Images of "Class"), Colorado Springs,
"The Process of Fiction: the Stubborn Persistence of Innocence," Image Journal
Conference, "Carried to the Heart," Millsaps College, Jackson, MI, November 1999
"Isaiah in Lower Manhattan: Prophetic Literary Imagination in a Dangerous Time,"
Milton Center, Newman University, Wichita, Kansas, February 2002
--Hopwood Award, First Place, Major Fiction, University of Michigan, 1973, novella,
"Immortality to Jinotega"
--Michigan Council for the Arts, Individual Artist Grant ($5,000), 1985, novel
--Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1987, Bread Loaf Scholar in Fiction
--Yaddo Foundation, Artist-in-Residence, 1987 --The MacDowell Colony, Artist-
--National Endowment for the Humanities, Grant w/ Amana Library, 1988, series,
--National Endowment for the Humanities, Grant w/Amana Library, 1989, series on
"place" in literature
--Iowa Woman, Honorable Mention, 1988, Poetry Competition, for a group of poems
--Western Humanities Review, Honorable Mention, Novella Competition, 1986,
novella, "Year of the Buffalo"
--New Letters, Honorable Mention, Fiction Competition, 1989, for "The Tivoli Man"
--Iowa Woman, First Place, Fiction Competition, 1988, for "The Golden"
--Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 1988, Runner-up, Fiction, for "Whistling After
--Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 1989, First Place, Fiction, for "We Go to
-- National Endowment for the Arts Grant, $20,000 in support of fiction projects,
--Iowa City Public Library Scholar, Spring 1991, Five-lecture NEH series, women's
--University of Iowa Fine Arts Council, Artist Grant, Spring 1991, for Cafeteria of
--University of Iowa, campus-wide graduate teaching award, $1,000, spring 1991
-- Western Washington University, Faculty Grant 1992, $3,500 in support of China
travel and research
--Central Michigan University, Faculty Research and Creative Endeavors Grant
1997, $4,630 for travel and research in Sweden and Finland, 1998, for Ursula,
--Sarabande Press Short Fiction Collection competition, 1998, judged by Stuart
Dybek, first runner-up**
--Lake Superior Writers' Guild, Short Fiction Competition, Summer 2000, first
--PEN International Center, Fall 2001, Grant toward expenses, $700
--Top 100 Stories of 2001, BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, “Jolie-Gray”
--National Endowment for the Arts Grant, $20,000 in support of fiction projects,
--Great Lakes Book Award, for “Ursula., Under,” October 2004
The Southern Review, 1974, "Immortality to Jinotega"
The Southern Review, 1978, "Light, Games, Women"
American Fiction '87, "Salvaging"
The Southern Review, 1987, "Pyrotechnics"
Sonora Review, 1988, "Roadie"
Iowa Woman, 1988, "The Golden"
Louisiana Literature, 1988, "Cafeteria of Dreams"
Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 1988, "Whistling After Laval"
North American Review, 1988, "Dead Man's Spoons"
The Southern Review, 1988, "Baptism of Desire"
Iowa Woman, 1989, "Seige, with Swans and Starlight"
Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 1989, "We Go to Xochimilco"
North American Review, 1989, "How I Got Legendary"
Indiana Review, 1992, "The Heraclitus Bowl"
Chicago Review, 1993, "The Angels of Tian-An-Men Square"
Louisiana Literature, 1994, "A Dream of the King of Sweden"
Jeopardy, 1995, "Kyrksilver"
The Michigan Quarterly Review, 1995, "Jerusalem, My Happy Home"
The Southern Review, Spring 1998, "Pagan Babies"
Shenandoah, Fall 1998, "Emily Nightingale"
STORY, Summer 1999, "The Fall of Sparrow Hill"
Black Warrior Review, Fall 1999, "Ursula in Uruguay"
Shenandoah, Winter 2000, "Irises"
North American Review, Spring 2000, "The Man Who Almost Died With Ricky
The Southern Review, Summer 2000, "Jolie-Gray"
IMAGE, Winter 2000, "Clara Destiny”
The Raleigh News & Observer, April 2001, "The More They Stay the Same"
IMAGE, Fall 2002, “The Ballad of Rappy Valcour”
New Stories From the South: the Best of 1999, ed. Shannon Ravenel, "Pagan
YELLOW SILK II: Journal of Erotic Arts, ed. Lily Pond, "Angels of Tian-An-Men
Shorelines, Holy Cow Press, Duluth, MN, Fall 2000, "Marjatta"
New Stories From the South: the Best of 2001, "Jolie-Gray"
Re-anthologized in Best of the Best, 1995-2005, chosen by Anne Tyler
New Stories From the South: the Best of 2002, "The More They Stay the Same"
New Stories From the South: the Best of 2003, "The Ballad of Rappy Valcour"
IMAGE, Winter 2003, “Valor”
The Southern Review, Spring 2004, “Castelgandolfo”
IMAGE, Winter 2004, “Gipsy Fisher’s Rest”
Stories from the Blue Moon Café, August 2005, “The Beauty Seat”
First collection of stories published October 1989: Dixie Church Interstate Blues,
Ursula, Under, a novel, published Spring 2004 with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill;
released in the UK January 6th, 2005; Penguin trade paperback edition, summer
2005; Viking UK any moment.
The Ballad of Rappy Valcour (and more New Orleans Stories), a collection,
forthcoming with Algonquin
My second novel, Widows and Orphans, is in progress.
Online, a book review: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63162-
Review of Ursula Under
Hill’s Work Is Impressive: Ursula, Under
by Beth L. Virtanen, Ph. D.
Ingrid Hill’s first novel, Ursula, Under, sets its central narrative in Upper Michigan,
drawing on the author’s interest in a mine collapse in Ishpeming in 1926, and the
rescue of a little girl who fell into a well in Midland, Texas, in the 1980s. Impressive
even for a third or fourth book, but more so as a first novel, this expansive work
incorporates the telling of what ancestral memories genetically make up this
Finnish-Chinese-American girl of two and a half with thick blond hair to her waist,
onyx, almond-shaped eyes, and an exotic sun-tan complexion.
The girl Ursula, beloved by both parents, is the culmination of hundreds of
generations, of an ancient Chinese alchemist, a minister of maps, a Portuguese
missionary, a Finnish foundling raised in the Swedish court who dies fleeing a
leper colony, a deaf woman who married a deaf man, a mustard grower, a widowed
woman who emigrated from Finland and married a man she didn’t love. In her
ancestral makeup, Ursula bears witness to the making of the east and the west,
informed by alchemist and preacher alike, by Finnish pagan tradition fraught with
witches and spells, by the farm, the laboratory, the palace, and the mine. In Ursula
comes together the high and the low born, those who made it rich and those who
lost it all.
Each character in Hill’s work peoples the novel with rich texture and motivation,
living within the knowledge of the time, yet somehow reaching across the eons to
inform the world of Ursula. That world is set in a trailer park in Sioux Ste. Marie,
Michigan, where a young couple, desperately in love conceives and bear a child
whom crippled Annie should never have been able to bear. Her Chinese-American
husband Justin, abandoned by his father, fiercely protects both his crippled wife
and his infant daughter. Both are desolate as the interminable rescue goes on for
many hours. But through the trauma, Ursula brings people together, those who
have not seen each other in 25 years, those who needed to meet in order to fulfill
their own destinies.
Ingrid Hill, who was born Hokanson, was born in New York City but spent most of
her growing-up years in New Orleans. She has spent some time in China and in
Sweden, and has lived in Washington and, Michigan. She has twelve children and
an earned Ph. D. from the University of Iowa. She currently lives in Iowa City with
her second husband. Her writing name, Hill, from her first husband, “came from the
Finnish ‘Sellakamaki,’ meaning from the back of the hill, which was truncated to
‘Maki’ and then anglicized to ‘Hill’” (Image Journal online, http://www.imagejournal.
I recommend this book as a riveting novel that I could not put down. Even though it
contains 476 pages, I read it in two days because of its charm and extravagance. It
is lyrical, emotional, and imaginative. It is wonderful and closes gloriously humanely.