As far as rappers go, Dessa has taken the road less traveled. Not long ago, Dessa (real name: Maggie Wagner) was a technical writer for a medical company. Last year she became an adjunct professor at McNally Smith. Now, with "Spiral Bound," her debut collection of short stories, the Minneapolis rapper can call herself an author.
In her songs, she is a nimble lyricist who loves to get personal. Her prose is no different. Through six stories (and four poems), Dessa establishes herself as a graceful writer, offering up gobs of melancholy that often burst into fits of surprising self-discovery.
She has a way of providing detail that is economical but also sweeping in the insight it can provide. In "Saint Maxwell," which opens at her brother's baptism, she characterizes her father in just a single line. He stood there with "his only son in his arms and his only tie around his neck." Her observations of everyday life are peculiar, but have an odd truthfulness.
Dessa's stories usually start under the simplest of circumstances -- a trip to the dentist, or a quiet night with her dad. These situations prove to be gateways into the writer's wandering trail of philosophical musings. In her best story, "Camera Obscura," Dessa visits her father on his small sailboat up north. Before we know it, a story about father-daughter time has become an existential journey for the ages. It's profound and moving.