People Issue

Merritt Tierce: The Sharer

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Think of her as a modern Artemis, Protector of Young Women. Though she is soft-spoken, measured and humble, Merritt Tierce is, in her bones, a fighter. She is ignited, and ignites, mostly through her prose, but she's an intriguing double threat -- triple if you count her ability to de-crumb a table.

Tierce, 32, worked as a secretary and waitress through her 20s, most notably at Nick & Sam's, the swanky steakhouse that provided the cultural and class observations for much of her fiction. After her first published story, "Suck It," appeared in the Southwest Review in 2008, Tierce attended the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop, and last fall she was named a 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award winner.

It's the kind of success that inspires daydreams of a life of writing, reading and gardening. But where's the tension there? After Iowa, Tierce returned to Denton, where she now serves as executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, which helps low-income women cover the cost and endure the avalanche of judgment of getting an abortion.

"Even though women's right to healthcare is being attacked on a national level, being in a place like this, I really feel like what I'm doing is necessary," she says. "It's not ordinary here, and so it feels more significant in this community and the work feels more urgent."

So, no: It's no coffee-shop and plant-watering existence. But Tierce says her work with the TEA Fund adds a critical, unimpeachable element to her creative process. "It seems like in America, if you write, you teach to support yourself, and I feel like that's diluting what is being written about," she says. "I don't mean to glorify what I do; I mean, it's not manual labor or anything. But I feel like it brings me up against people who have different ideas and people who are really struggling in life. I think it's important to maintain those connections if you want to be the kind of artist I want to be."

The connections often come in the form of thousands of letters from women who have received access to healthcare through the fund. "It's really a privilege," she says. "You don't get the opportunity very often to make a life-changing difference for someone else with comparatively so little. We give these women a little money and they can reclaim their lives. It's such a beautiful trade."

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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Brentney Hamilton