Marilyn June Coffey 
Great Plains Storyteller

National prize-winning and internationally published author Marilyn June Coffey is a plucky writer.That was evident in 1973 when Marcella, her coming-of-age novel, broke a world record. It became the first novel written in English that used female masturbation for its main theme. 

Feminists lauded MarcellaMs. published a chapter. Gloria Steinem called the novel “an important part of the truth telling by and for women.” Alix Kates Shulman wrote, in New York Times Book Review: “Coffey skillfully weaves together the religious, sexual and musical themes that comprise the trinity of Marcella's obsession.” 

When Marilyn turned to poetry, she won a national Pushcart Prize for her poem, “Pricksong,” in 1976. Pricksong originally meant written, or pricked, music, but the feisty poet gave it a modern twist. Los Angeles Times called “Pricksong” a “wry poem about an obscene houseplant.” Newsweek called it “surreal.” 

But it took a flask of brandy to spur Marilyn to read her poetry to a New York audience. Later, she hired a reading coach. Her delivery, now brandy-less, improved. Stouthearted Coffey became an active, and popular, reader and storyteller who presented to 150 groups in twelve states, from Maine to Texas.

Asked where she got her spunky spirit, Marilyn replied, “My dad. He had the guts to tangle with 
Teamster Jimmy Hoffa and his thugs.” Coffey described that in her Great Plains Patchwork. She
 enlarged the story in her father-daughter memoir, That Punk Jimmy Hoffa.

“I modeled myself on Dad in 1956, when I refused to wear the required rubber girdle that my 
sorority considered de rigueur. The sorority booted me out, the first such case at the university.”

After she graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1959, she devoured Jack Kerouac’s On 
the Road, quit her job and hit the road herself. Venturesome Marilyn went to Denver, St. Louis, 
crossed the southwest states to San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and finally New York City 
where she lived for some thirty years.

In New York, Marilyn worked as a temporary writing teacher at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, in an era where the school never hired female English teachers full-time. That changed, but only through litigation. Resolute Coffey received a full-time job at Pratt as part of a class-action suit; four years later she sued again, successfully, for tenure.

Retired, Marilyn lived in Omaha with Jack Loscutoff, also a writer. The two exchanged spicy poems about “Elder Copulation,” as he called it. When Jack died, Marilyn told their story in a book, JackJack & JuneBug. To honor Jack, Marilyn published two of his books—his memoir, Aunt Gussie’s Socks, and his short stories, A Line of Shorts.

Marilyn continues to write her intermittent newsletter, a JoLt of CoFFeY. Her current book, Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers, is a sassy history of the dirty deals rampant from 1853 to 1884 as Nebraska was settled. Its oodles of unscrupulous characters include U.S. presidents, governors, generals, judges, Native Americans, and homesteaders. 

Her Mail-Order Kid, a biography, tells the story of a three-year-old orphan train rider transplanted from a New York orphanage to an abusive Volga German home in Kansas. Teresa was part of a movement from 1854 to 1929 that relocated up to 400,000 children from East Coast cities to farm families over most of the United States. Mail-Order Kid, an Amazon best seller, won a President’s Award from the National Orphan Train Complex.

These days, Marilyn likes to relate the stories of her writing life to nonprofit and other groups. She tells audiences why Good Housekeeping fired her, why winning a short story contest made her dump her college sweetheart, and how she happened to shake Robert Kennedy’s hand.
Award-winning Great Plains writer Marilyn Coffey recounts her family's intricate dance with the Teamsters, beginning with her dad's tiny trucking company spawned on a front porch in 1929, in a David-and-Goliath encounter that spanned decades.Latest book:

That Punk Jimmy Hoffa

Invite Marilyn to speak to your group. 
She asks the audience to choose from the stories below.

Marilyn June
Welcome to My World
Also check out:

Thieves, Rascals 
& Sore Losers:

The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska

Learn more.
In the Limelight

i. Readings

With trembling knees and after one too many slugs of cognac in an attempt to quell my jittering heart, I stood before a small New York City audience in March 1967 and read a few of my poems. I’d been writing poetry only a few months, but I was on a roll.

Soon I was performing, in my psychedelic dress, with jazz musician and poet Alan Surpin. The highlight of our collaboration remains the weekend we performed at the American Ethical Culture’s Society’s national youth convention in New Jersey on the same program as the blind musician Louis “Moondog” Hardin, whose minimalist albums impressed musicians like Philip Glass and Charlie Parker. 

Alan and I had seen Moondog around town. Who hadn’t? His homespun costume made my psychedelic dress look decidedly “off the rack.” A tall, genial man with flowing gray hair and an even longer beard, Moondog dressed in full Viking regalia: sweeping robes, a tall spear, a fur helmet sporting steer horns. This apparition, more forest spirit than military man, stood stock still in the middle of a busy Sixth Avenue sidewalk, begging for his living. Or he’d play drums and keyboards, recite his poetry. “She bought a cover to cover the seat; but the cover was so nice/she bought a cover to cover the cover; and now it’s covered twice.”

ii. Performances

When I returned to Nebraska in the mid-1980s and saw scholar-performers in Chautauqua roles, I thought, “I can do that.” Soon I wore a bustle and lacey gloves, carried an umbrella and pretended to be Louisa May Alcott. 

That went so well I invented other roles. In Omaha, I dressed in a long flowing gown and pretended to be Eostre, the Germanic goddess of Easter.  I dressed in overalls to narrate a chapter from my Great Plains Patchwork.  I slipped into a negligee and tossed a hot pink boa around my shoulders and, as “Lady Plume,” read my erotic poetry.  

I pretended to be “Henrietta’s Mother,” dashing about New York looking for Henrietta who was riding on an orphan train. Then using a series of hats and other props, I pretended to be eight different orphan-train characters. Backed by the Nebraska Humanities Council, this became my most popular presentation. I performed “Orphan Train Riders” 29 times, not knowing I would soon be writing a biography of one of the riders, Mail-Order Kid.