Art Transplant: The Writing Partners Writer Michelle Mariano and musician Nathan Graham thrive in Baltimore's art scene—baby and all.

By Betsy Boyd



_cpm1091Michelle Mariano isn’t allowed to have any ice cream for the foreseeable future. A dietary restriction? Nope, a literary one.

“I was supposed to submit [my novel-in-stories manuscript] by May 31 to an agent who asked for it,” says Mariano, 37. “I did not. Now I can’t have any ice cream till I submit it. I’m someone who eats ice cream every day.”

Several artist friends—as well as Mariano’s writer/musician husband, Nathan Graham, 34— joined the springtime challenge, the others vowing not to drink beer till they’d reached their creative goals. Incidentally, after hitting their marks, Mariano’s fellow contestants have regained access to their favorite beverage.

“That’s the benefit of grad school,” Graham says. “You have those deadlines.”

In January of last year, the couple relocated to Baltimore from Houston, where Mariano was completing her Ph.D. in fiction writing at the University of Houston—the two met in the MFA program at New Mexico State University in 2007. Both were studying poetry.

“We had a few reasons [for coming here],” Mariano says. “Our people are on the Atlantic Coast. We lived in D.C. between our degrees for three years. Nathan has a lot of nostalgia for D.C., and he had a band there. Besides that, we found it hard to build a community in D.C.”

Now they’re a gentle train ride to Mariano’s family in New York City, and a doable drive to Graham’s family in Chapel Hill, N.C. But the easier commute is only part of Charm City’s charm for the well-read writers.

“There are plenty of artists to collaborate with” in Baltimore, Graham says. “MICA is just down the road. It’s sort of like Detroit way back. Baltimore is a convenient city, but affordable—artists can gather here.”

The duo, who bought a house in Ednor Gardens upon arrival, still look forward to finding and forming a local community of creative friends. They occasionally pal around with another pair of artists—a married couple also in their 30s—who live next door. But they admit their first year has involved logging a lot of quiet hours at home, as they work on dissertations: Mariano her novel-in-stories, Graham a digital history that analyzes the effect of established literary journal credits on commercial authorial success.

Not forgetting that when Mariano and Graham arrived here last year, their impossibly cute infant son, Julian, who turned 2 in August, came in cooing tow.

“Our first year, I was so entrenched in dissertation, and we had Julian,” Mariano says. We lucked into living next door to [artists] Chad [Tyler] and Jowita [Wyszomirska]. But Julian put a damper on our late-night style.”

“Yeah,” Graham adds. “There are great readings, but they’re at 8 p.m.—we’re worried Julian might disrupt the reading!”

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