COVID-19 Artist Stories: Ruby Hansen Murray

In COVID time, mortality and vulnerability live beside gratitude. I’m privileged to live far from hot spots, to work at home with stable income for now. There’s Zoom overkill, my too-serious face reflected back to me, the stark moments when everyone’s sadness, our overwhelm, sits on each face. I worry about Osage friends and family, living where there are 76 cases in the county in a Republican state already reopening.

Most of the time, I’m excited by the possibilities of more writing time. I gloss over losses, which include a year in my finite writer’s life, a much-anticipated scholarship to Kweli in New York City, and a fellowship at Vermont Studio Center. The cancellation I most regret is the writing workshop I was to offer Osage veterans. I’ll miss spending two weeks in the Oregon high desert with a group of indigenous friends and mentors that CMarie Fuhrman and Rebecca Lawton pulled together at Playa.

This April, Cathlamet was to welcome the Chinook Nation to a poetry festival that Claudia Castro Luna and I spent a year planning. In the twenty years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen the Chinook at an art (or other) event here. I don’t trust deferring until next year, because I’m immune-compromised, the group who continues to shelter through all phases of a reopening. I’ll need a vaccine to be safe.

In this SW corner of the state, we watch counties in Oregon as well as Washington to see how the virus is progressing. The community—our grocery store, pharmacy, and farmers—are knit together. I have a partner who is resourceful and steady. I miss the National Refuge Trail, but this evening at sunset I walked in the billowing green of early summer on this island in the Columbia, where only pelicans and an incoming cargo vessel five-stories above the water line passed. This island offers isolation, but that works best in connection with friends and colleagues and trips home to the Osage. I’m still learning the impacts of this time.


Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer living in Cathlamet, a small town in Southwest Washington. She’s an award-winning columnist for the Osage News and offers writing workshops in settings such as the Port Townsend Writers Conference, the Osage Museum, and the Chicago American Indian Center. She’s a winner of the Montana Nonfiction Prize and Oregon Writers Colony Contest in Nonfiction, awarded fellowships at Ragdale, Hedgebrook, and Fishtrap. See her work in High Desert Journal, Seventh Wave, Moss, Exquisite Vessel: Shapes of Native Nonfiction, Native: Voices, Indigenous American Poetry, World Literature Today, CutBank, and The Rumpus. A citizen of the Osage Nation with West Indian roots, she received an MFA from The Institute of American Indian Arts. Ruby received a 2018 Artist Trust GAP Award and was nominated for the 2017 James W. Ray Venture Project Award, presented by the Artist Trust | Frye Art Museum Consortium.

Read Ruby’s work on her website.