Madden is a queer Asian Pacific Islander American writer, photographer, and amateur magician living in New York City. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in design and literature from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College. She is the founding editor-in-chief of No Tokens, a magazine of literature and art, and a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in nonfiction literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Tin House, DISQUIET, Summer Literary Seminars, and Yaddo, where she was selected for the 2017 Linda Collins Endowed Residency Award. She facilitates writing workshops for homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals and currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
Emilie Sommer, book buyer for East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C., was on the adult Indies Introduce panel that selected Madden’s debut. She said, “Is this the memoir of a pampered daughter — a horse-riding Florida prep school princess — or is this the memoir of a neglected Chinese-Hawaiian girl struggling to raise herself amidst her parents’ alcoholism, addiction, and domestic turmoil? Is this a child’s perspective on the criminal excess of the Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort and those in his orbit? Is this a rape survivor’s coming of age? T Kira Madden’s memoir is all of the above, as well as a stunning meditation on identity, adolescence, family, and forgiveness. Readers are rewarded with a climax as moving as the exceptional first chapters. This debut is fierce and unforgettable.”
Here, Sommer and Madden discuss her memoir.
Emilie Sommer: How did you find the courage and strength to write so honestly about your family and childhood?
T Kira Madden: I think of Long Live as a book that happened to me, rather than a book I was seeking. I didn’t write it because I wanted to vent; I didn’t write it to expose anyone or seek revenge; I didn’t write it for its juicy secrets or because I wanted something more marketable or because I wanted “catharsis.” I wrote it simply because these were the only pages I could write after my father died. These were the only questions with which I could wrestle. So I didn’t arrive at the page making a concerted effort to be courageous; I wrote the story and wrote about the people I love to the best of my memories and abilities. After, with the stack of paper in my hands, came the conversations; that was, and still is, the hard part.
ES: What has been the reaction of your family and friends?
TKM: Ninety-nine percent warm and lovely and supportive and respectful. The only pushback comes from people concerned about my mother, which, to be honest, hurts my feelings. It hurts because I don’t like the immediate assumption that memoirists are out here to expose and lay bare what’s not ours, as if we’re reaching for the most sensational tell-all, centered by malice and greed. I take my job so, so very seriously, and, for me, that meant working with my mother through every essay, from day one. It was tedious and agonizing, but I did that work. We did that work. I made sure the important people in my life felt good about their portrayals and confident in what I’d done. I appreciate when people ask about that process before assuming a lack of deep and extensive consideration.
ES: Are you a memoir reader by nature and if so, do you have any favorites? Are there any particular memoirs you looked to as instructional or inspirational before you wrote yours?
TKM: The most important memoir for me has been Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body, for the mesmerizing way Alex handles time, memory, and honesty; I love the capacious empathy of the book, and the craft is unparalleled. I love the way Lidia Yuknavitch shatters narrative. I love Melissa Febos’ way around words. Samantha Irby is the realest deal, as is Myriam Gurba, and the essays of Brandon Taylor and Kristen Arnett, and my God, the sentences of Mitchell Jackson, and Jaquira Díaz, and the blazing whirl of Allie Rowbottom and Chelsea Bieker and Kristin Dombek, the heroes of my heart. I digress, but yes — I am here for all the memoirs.
ES: The bulk of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls takes place during your childhood and adolescence in the ’90s, and I know your launch party has a ’90s prom theme! What are your favorite trends from the ’90s? Favorite ’90s music?
TKM: I grew up in the Napster ’90s, so my music taste is mostly corny and limited. But I am always down to sing Rent, especially with a friend; I listen to TLC and the Cranberries and Usher and Alanis unironically, almost every day; I will love Leonardo DiCaprio and want true happiness for him until the day I die, and I do long for the simple problems of my Tamagotchi named Esther, and Gak and/or Floam in my hair. Also, has there ever been anyone hotter than Shelby Woo?
ES: Can you tell us anything about what you’re writing now?
TKM: I am deliriously happy to be working my way back into fiction. I feel less deliriously happy when I remember how absolutely agonizing it is to write a novel. Still, I’m going to keep showing up for mine, again and again and still again, until it is terrifying.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Maden (Bloomsbury, 9781635571851, Hardcover Nonfiction, $27) On Sale Date: 3/5/2019.