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Alum’s first novel meditates on grief, love, and the tenuous art of raising chickens

By Jeffrey Oliver

portrait of Jackie Polzin

What do chickens, questions about motherhood, and Minnesota have in common with Boise State’s creative writing program? Jackie Polzin (MFA, 2018) and her first novel “Brood.”

In the novel, an unnamed narrator works through the grief of a miscarriage by caring intently for her small brood of chickens – Gloria, Gam Gam, Darkness, and Miss Hennepin County. The narrator faces predators, neighbors, bad luck, an arctic Minnesota winter, then a sweltering summer.

“A lot of the story is rooted in true experience,” Polzin said. “It explores all kinds of feelings surrounding infertility, miscarriage, motherhood, and what it means if you want to be a mother and can’t be a mother. And, what does it matter to care for things?”

Mary Pauline Lowry, a fellow MFA alum and author of the novel “The Roxy Letters,” said that Polzin has a particular talent for writing about the beauty of the everyday.

“She does amazing work writing about cleaning or the daily life of chickens. This novel is full of these beautiful, tumbled rocks that have been arranged into a mosaic. It’s gorgeous, very satisfying, and very heartbreaking.”

“Brood” was Polzin’s thesis project at Boise State. She never workshopped it and said she thought of it as her “secret project.” She took advantage of an assignment in a class with Professor Brady Udall to transform her work into a screenplay. The exercise forced her to “figure out the arc of the entire story,” she said.

When Lowry, now a visiting assistant professor at Boise State, invited Polzin to speak to her students about the writing process, Polzin revisited her screenplay to prepare.

“It was just so surprising to see what was captured there and how much had changed or how much had gotten left behind for the novel,” she said.

Polzin credits each of her professors in the writing program with helping her become a writer who finishes projects. When she was anxious about completing the manuscript for “Brood” to graduate, her thesis advisor, Emily Ruskovich, told her, “The thesis is just one mark in time on the manuscript. This is going to be your book.”

Polzin received what she called a “generous and life-altering” note from writer Joy Williams who was a member of her thesis committee. Williams offered to read and provide notes on Polzin’s completed manuscript to ready it for publication. “So that was like a deadline. I knew I had to finish the book if Joy Williams said she would read it,” Polzin said.

Doubleday published “Brood” in 2021. The novel received good reviews in The New York Times and The Washington Post. It was part of a six-publisher bidding war in the United Kingdom.

And to come full circle from the screenplay assignment that helped her shape her novel, a producer recently optioned “Brood” to become a feature film.

 

 

“Brood”

“Brood” was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and on the shortlist for the 2021 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

The book won the 2022 Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist in the 2022 Minnesota Book Awards. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the Idaho Review, and other publications.