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Toni Jensen

Toni Jensen teaches English at the University of Central Florida and is the author of From the Hilltop. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines.


"These stories are as much about tradition as they are about the now; Jensen's understated and powerful prose easily bridges that divide."

– Publishers Weekly

"The choice of words, whether for descriptions, dialogue, or inner reflection, is impeccable. Jensen is a powerful, gifted writer who has crafted characters for whom this reader felt deeply."

– Lisa Rand

"Recommended for all short story collections, Jensen's stories will bring pleasure and inspire thought for many readers."

– Andy J. Deering



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From the Hilltop

Materializing the Promise of Change


In From the HilltopToni Jensen’s first short story collection, Jensen shapes worlds where grief births silence and mourning accompanies shifts in weather and landscape, making land a character, one who can feel and act humans do. Rainfall accompanies a teacher/student relation in “Learning How to Drown”; a cornfield moves from place to place, arriving near the twelve-room Blanco Canyon Hotel, right after the death of the owner’s wife in “At the Powwow Hotel.” The land is as hot and dry as a choked throat in the beginning of “Flight,” where a teenage girl goes to live with relatives in South Dakota.

Jensen’s characters are aware of these weather patterns to some degree, their awareness strongest in “Sight and Other Hazards,” where a woman deals with her dying mother while overseeing an apartment building that used to be the Holcomb hotel. Hotels are also a character in From the Hilltopwhether abandoned or lived in as much as a hotel can allow others to “live” in it, materializing the promise of change present in all these characters’ lives.

While some of Jensen’s characters share her Métis background, (a mixed Native American and European ancestry from the Northern U.S. and Canada), many of her characters are men. Not only does Jensen craft both male and female voices realistically, she lets them sing, creating a sharply grounded view of life “off the rez.” This sharpness comes from her use of details — a pony-like dog near a canyon, fruit-bearing trees rooted unnaturally on the high plains of West Texas. The experimental, loop-like structure in “From the Hilltop” shares qualities with the shifts in time and clustering/threading of detail present in Stephen Graham Jones’ work, whom Jensen thanks in the acknowledgement section of her book. Like the fluxuation of weather (present in the book), the language cycles as the narrator’s mind cycles, each section of the story beginning with a different lead in, such as “If,” “Because,” and “Given.”

Jensen’s stories open with impact and close in a wonderfully subtle way, putting a tiny weight in your lungs — one forgets to breathe for a moment, and then realizes these characters will be alright, life continues for them. You will learn from “Still” how to cradle infertility, how to nurture it with silence. From “Butter” one learns about statistics and beauty and butter-headed replicas of local Dairy Queens. In “From the Hilltop,” one learns about the highest point in West Texas and, at the same time, through the honest voice of a man, how to lose a brother when you’re just a rebel kid, how to grow old with a story, telling a story again and again, hoping one day to get it just right. And you will feel as the character already has.

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