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Abby Comey's First Novel "Minnesota Nice"

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Interviews on Zoom, Worship Online: Exploring Catholic-Muslim Dialogues in Minnesota

 Early in the spring of 2020, I planned to spend my summer in Amsterdam studying the rise of Muslim immigration and the decline of Christianity. With the rise of the pandemic, my plans changed. It seems the beauty of an ethnographic study lies in its unpredictability.

 This summer, with the help of Professor Jessica Johnson, I conducted an ethnographic research project on interfaith dialogue and immigrant experiences in Central Minnesota. My research was driven by a central question: How do Somali and Catholic communities in Central Minnesota interact in conflict and concert with one another? The project culminated in a novel that incorporated my virtual interviews, surveys, following of local news coverage, and broader research into a multigenerational, dual-perspective story.

Minnesota Nice is about Lucy and Cumar—two teenagers who represent radically different corners of the same small town outside Minneapolis. Lucy, an aspiring journalist and third-generation Irish Catholic, makes videos about the Islamophobia that permeates her community. Cumar, an aspiring basketball star and second-generation Somali immigrant, becomes the center of Lucy’s story. Eventually, the “Minnesota Nice” on which the town prides itself proves to be more complicated than either Lucy or Cumar could have imagined. 

Even after I shifted from Amsterdam to Minnesota, the unpredictability of my research persisted. I asked all of my interviewees to envision their communities ten years in the future. Many of them described a diverse and unified Central Minnesota. Others foresaw a significant decline in church membership. Some flat out refused to speculate. My novel tries to honor these gnawing uncertainties, while also reflecting the sense of hope that vibrated at the core of all my findings.

I learned a tremendous amount from this project and from Professor Johnson. I hope to have the opportunity to do similar research in the future.