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Wolfpack Writers: Mary Ruth Barnes

cover of "Little Bird"

Mary Ruth Barnes graduated from NC State with a bachelor’s degree in English. 

An artist, teacher and writer, she was named the Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year in 2015. The honor pays tribute to a Chickasaw woman who has inspired, given hope and opened new possibilities or opportunities for others.

Her historical fiction novel Little Bird follows the journey of a Cherokee woman, who is faced with a string of tragic events after the death of her Chickasaw husband, just before the birth of their son. We caught up with Barnes to learn more about her writing motivations and time on campus.

Why this story? What motivated you to tell it?

Ten years ago, I started researching my family tree. I wanted to explore my Chickasaw ancestry and was surprised to find 78 pages of Dawes Commission interviews with my great-great-grandmother, Esther McLish, in the late 1800s. My great-great grandmother’s story was one of resilience and courage. I felt her story needed to be told.

What kind of research did you do for Little Bird

My research entailed hours at the Oklahoma History Museum and with the Chickasaw Cultural Research Center. I also discovered a plethora of information on, especially in the sections of Indian Territory research.

How has your NC State degree impacted your career?

My bachelor’s degree in English at NC State was a very rewarding experience. My professor, Tom Hester, was very influential in encouraging me to write. After I graduated, I taught at the high school and college level.

headshot of Mary Ruth Barnes
Mary Ruth Barnes

What was your favorite class at NC State? 

In my senior year, I took a class on Chaucer and it was excellent. I remember looking forward to going to every class meeting.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading a new release by Kristen Hannah called Four Winds.

In one word, what do you need to overcome writer’s block?


You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

William Faulkner, Harper Lee and Dean Koontz.

What’s next for you? Another novel, something else?

I am working on a sequel to Little Bird, and I hope to have it finished by the end of 2022.