Debra Magpie Earling has been named director of the University of Montana's creative writing program and is the first Native American selected to serve in the rotating post.

"Missoula is a storied community and the stories of the long-ago Salish who occupied this particular place remain here," said Earling, a Bitterroot Salish tribal member, in a statement; the author and faculty member could not be reached Tuesday for comment. "This is Indian Country and Bitterroot Salish traditional land.

"I am honored to be the first Native American director of one of the oldest writing programs in the country and privileged to welcome a new generation of storytellers."

An honoring ceremony will take place 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Payne Family Native American Center. Bill Kittredge, a former director of the program, will present Earling with a special gift at the event, visiting poetry professor Sherwin Bitsui will help honor her, and Salish elder Arleen Adams will lead the ceremony.

Earling's novel "Perma Red" won the Western Writers Association Spur Award, WWA's Medicine Pipe Bearer Award for Best First Novel, a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West, and the American Book Award, according to University Relations. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and also the great-granddaughter of Paul Charlo, the last federally recognized chief of the Bitterroot Salish.

The directorship rotates among faculty members roughly every three years, said the program's Karin Schalm. Kevin Canty held the post most recently, and Judy Blunt had the title before him; both are still on the faculty.

Faculty members "share in the service, responsibilities and gifts of being the one who defines the focus of the program," Schalm said.

The MFA program launched in the 1960s with poet Richard Hugo as its first director. The program currently counts some 40 students, Schalm said.

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