The Desert Nights, Rising Stars
Writers Conference

Picture of Nina McConigley

Nina McConigley

Desert Nights Rising Stars Writers Conference Faculty, 2018

Nina McConigley is the author of the story collection Cowboys and East Indians, which was the winner of the 2014 PEN Open Book Award and winner of a High Plains Book Award. It also was on the longlist for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She was born in Singapore and grew up in Wyoming. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, where she was an Inprint Brown Foundation Fellow. She also holds an MA in English from the University of Wyoming and a BA in Literature from Saint Olaf College. She is the winner of a Barthelme Memorial Fellowship in Non-Fiction and served as the Non-Fiction Editor of Gulf Coast: a Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. Her play, Owen Wister Considered was one of five plays produced in 2005 for the Edward Albee New Playwrights Festival, in which Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Lanford Wilson was the producer. She has been awarded a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2005-2009, and received a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. She was granted a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction at the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. In 2011, she was a Scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and in 2014 was a Fiction fellow.

She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for The Best New American Voices. Her story “Curating Your Life” was a notable story in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 edited by Dave Eggers. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Orion, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Salon, American Short Fiction, Memorious, Slice Magazine, Asian American Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, and Forklift, Ohio.

She was the 2010 recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Writing Award and was a finalist for the 2011 Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award. She currently serves on the board of the Wyoming Arts Council. She teaches at the University of Wyoming and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. She is at work on a novel.


Selected Media

"The Indian disapora fiction that you really should be reading." Oindrila Mukherjee, Scroll.in (Nov 22, 2015).

"Nina McConigley grew up a fan of The Little House On The Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was only much later that she realised that Laura and a brown girl like she would never have been friends. “We were the wrong kind of Indians living in Wyoming,” she says in the first line of her debut collection of stories Cowboys and East Indians, published in 2013.

Often mistaken for Native American, the Indian characters in these stories struggle to belong in both the American West and in India. Born to an Irish father and Indian mother (from Tamil Nadu,) McConigley speaks readily about her biracial heritage. While her Irish last name typically identifies her, especially on paper, as Caucasian, her Indian looks mark her as an exotic other among the mountains and prairies of Wyoming where she grew up. Again and again in these pages from her book we sense the loneliness of characters who long for acceptance."

"'You just need one person to fall in love deeply': An interview with fiction writer Nina McConigley." Prairie Schooner (Oct 20, 2016).

"I knew every story had to do with Wyoming and Indian-ness in one way or another. Being bi-racial, I am interested in race and identity – and I knew that was in every story. The great thing about short stories versus a novel is that I got 10 attempts to really work through the things I was thinking about through 10 different lenses, 10 different characters. But it was interesting once the book came out, to see what tics readers picked up on. Things I had no idea I was doing."


"White Wedding." Nina McConigley, Memorious 17 (Oct 2011).

"My sister was marrying white. This was not a surprise to me. Growing up, we mostly had white dolls. (We didn’t like the black ones presented to us by well meaning friends.) We went to school with white people. Our friends who came over to the house for BBQs and parties were white. Even our church was all white. And to be fair to Asha, it had happened in our family before. My mother had married white as well. And to be even fairer, at the last Census, Wyoming was 93.9% white. We fell into the 1.5% that was Other. Neither here nor there. We were used to white people.

But Asha had met her fiancé Tom not here, but far away from Wyoming in New York City, which is 44.7% white. And my mother met my father in Illinois, where they both had been graduate students. So although Asha and I fell into a grey area of being neither white nor Indian, we certainly had the cards stacked against us when it came to white people."


"Nina McConigley Reads from her Forthcoming Novel." Nina McConigley, Wyoming Public Media (Sep 8, 2014). Audio.

"This excerpt from the prologue of her forthcoming novel, The Call of Migratory Things, follows a family beginning in 1980’s Wyoming and goes back to pre-independence India. It is 1986, and teenagers Agatha Krishna and Georgie have murdered their uncle. As the sisters work to control their crime and its after-effects, what it means to be truly independent is tested – when one’s country, family, and life are inextricably always tied with an other. "


"Nina McConigley Discusses Writing the New American West: Postfrontier Literature." Wyoming Videos (Feb 23, 2017). Video.

"I'm going to be talking about what I call post-frontier fiction: fiction that moves beyond the traditional narratives of what people know about the American West. When people think about the West, they think about Owen Wister or Wayne Gray or Louis L'Amour. And there's definitely an idea of the Western, and there are a lot of writers like Annie Proulx with Brokeback Mountain. There are lots of people writing the story of the American West and writing it in a way that's not the traditional cowboy-hero narrative, and also talking about the land in ways that are separating it from the romanticism of ranching and cowboys."