Interview with Danielle Shandiin Emerson

Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: In “Firsts and Lasts,” we were drawn in by Shundiin’s relationships and dynamics, especially between her mother and father. How did you go about developing the relationships between these characters?

Danielle Shandiin Emerson: Developing the relationships between these characters started as a series of questions, what would a mother do in this situation, how would a daughter react, and why does the father lack an immediate presence, but still manage to influence the other characters? While not all of these questions have concrete answers, I feel like developing character relationships comes from the attempt to answer or reach something close to an answer via exploration.

RR: The ‘lasts’ throughout this piece deal with the concept of loss from different perspectives; what was the process like of distinguishing the nuances of loss from one another?

DSE: I think the nuances of loss also relate to the nuances of grief. Grieving looks very different between people and their lived experiences. My response to loss varies, especially when compared to another person’s response to loss. Recognizing that grief and loss are shared experiences but not necessarily shared perspectives, helped me distinguish the nuance of one character’s loss to another.

RR: We love how you pair first experiences with the ending of relationships; how did that theme develop as you worked on the story?

DSE: I think this theme developed subconsciously, but thinking back, Shundiin starts with both of her parents in her life, but we learn later on that her father’s presence is abusive. I think it’s important for people to know that when you’ve cut someone out of your life, or set boundaries, it isn’t necessarily a loss or even an end, but a beginning and a movement towards something better for your wellbeing.

RR: Based on your biography, we understand you’re a member of the Navajo Nation. Can you speak to how your personal experience and culture have influenced aspects of your writing?

DSE: This is always an interesting question. It’s hard for me to say how something about myself and my culture has influenced my writing, because that’s just who I am. I’m Diné and of course I write from a Diné perspective because that’s my life and how I live as a being in this world.

Additionally, a lot of my writing comes from the stories and teachings my family has passed on to me. And as a writer, I feel like their voices stay with me, even though I’m so far away from home. If I had to speak towards influences, writing as a Diné person comes from a place of warmth, healing, and home.

RR: Do you have plans to tackle any larger projects in the future?

DSE: I’m currently The Associates of the Boston Public Library 2023-2024 Writer-in-Residence, so I’m working on a collection of YA short stories focusing on contemporary Diné life. I’ve also got a bunch of poems I’m hoping to turn into a book someday, but it’s still got a way to go. These are the larger projects I’ve been tackling and hope to complete sometime by the end of the year.


Read “Firsts and Lasts” by Danielle Shandiin Emerson in Issue 11.2