Dantiel W. Moniz’s short stories crackle on the page, alive with the vital milk, thicker-than-water blood and swampy heat that have shaped her as a born-and-raised Floridian. But she actually wrote many of the stories in her powerful 2021 debut collection “Milk Blood Heat” while in Madison — a place she knew next to nothing about before coming to the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2016 to earn an MFA in a program that accepts just six fiction students every other year. Still, it might take some time before Wisconsin begins to permeate her writing in the same way.
“Moving to Wisconsin helped me write about Florida with clarity because I left it,” says Moniz, who is already a recipient of The Pushcart Prize, a MacDowell Fellowship, the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction and the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Award. She went back to Florida after earning her master’s degree in 2018. In February 2021, she published “Milk Blood Heat” to widespread accolades and earned spots on prestigious lists, including those in Time, BuzzFeed, Indie Next Pick, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Literary Hub, Elle, Entertainment Weekly and O, The Oprah Magazine — all the more remarkable considering the collection’s timing (launched during a pandemic) and the fact that short stories typically don’t achieve the same market success as novels.
“The book, and the stories in this book individually before it became a collection, afforded me so many opportunities to help me shape a life that I’ve been leaning or yearning toward and had no idea how to make actual,” she says. UW–Madison helped her do just that, and now she’s paying it forward to the next generation of writers. In August 2021, Moniz began teaching as an assistant professor in the creative writing department, which is uniquely structured to offer classes for undergraduates and graduate students, as well as teaching opportunities for post-graduate fellows. “I’m excited to be getting a chance to develop and create the program that helped develop and create my own writing space and practices,” says Moniz. This time, she brought her husband — a fellow lifelong Floridian who’d never seen snow — and they’ve settled in Madison for what will hopefully be the first of many winters.
“The thing that’s interesting about Madison to me is that so many of the people that come through this program end up staying here,” says Moniz, citing authors Chloe Benjamin, Michelle Wildgen, Rita Mae Reese and others who continue to hold classes and readings, as well as support local bookshops. “The community of writers here isn’t just inside the program itself, it extends out into this wider world.”
Maggie Ginsberg is a senior editor at Madison Magazine. Her long-form features have garnered numerous honors since 2006 including from the National City Regional Magazine Association, the Milwaukee Press Club and the American Society of Journalist and Authors. In addition to helping edit the work of Madison Magazine's contributing writers, freelancers and essayists, she writes features and the monthly Looking Back historical photo department page. Online, Maggie conducts monthly author Q&As and covers the local literary scene with her Sunday Reads monthly e-newsletter. Her own debut novel, "Still True," was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in September 2022 and was the honorable mention selection for the 2022 Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award, as well as a 2023 Midwest Book Award honoree.