Like so many New Yorkers, literary essayist T Kira Madden has a story of how she got here. And it’s a tough, compelling, twisted one very much worth reading.
Her new memoir, “Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls,” out Tuesday, recounts Madden’s coming-of-age as a mixed-race, half-Jewish, queer girl in Boca Raton, Florida, and her early adulthood in New York.
amNewYork spoke with Inwood-based Madden, 30, on how she shifted from writing fiction to writing about herself for her first book, her writing habits and her upcoming multicity book tour.
What made you want to write a memoir?
I never sought out to write a memoir. I’m traditionally a student of fiction: I went to school for fiction, I’ve taught fiction and only wrote and published fiction. But after my father passed away about 3 1/2 years ago, I went to a writing residency on assignment for a fiction project and I just couldn’t find my focus, I couldn’t find my center with any of my projects because I was so deeply in that haze of grief. So instead of working on [fiction], I decided to start working through questions I had about my father after he passed. It was kind of journaling, and by the time I left that residency, I had about 100 pages of nonfiction about my family and the questions I had, and the things I was discovering. And then it just so happened that this was recognized as a book first, by an agent. It was kind of accidental that I slipped into nonfiction.
Where in New York do you like to write?
I used to be a cafe person, back when I lived in Brooklyn when I was younger. I would work at Milk and Roses in Greenpoint every day, through grad school and afterward. Since then, I’ve mostly cozied up to working at home. My desk has become kind of a sacred space for me that I curate and design depending on what projects I’m working on. For the memoir I had lots of photographs, piles of old journals. … There was a lava lamp on my desk the whole time I wrote this book, because it’s very much a ’90s book. And now for my new project, I’m scraping that from my desk and building something that will work for the mood of this new novel. I curate a mood. That space has become very important for me to make the decision to write and let it take over.
What can you tell us about the new novel?
I think it’s a horror story about family biology. And it’s queer. It’s about a lesbian couple and what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a daughter.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading “Mother Winter” by Sophia Shalmiyev. And I’m reading a collection of short stories that came out last year, “Back Talk” by Danielle Lazarin. She’s my neighbor and we recently became friends. I’m also reading a lot of books about horses for a specific piece I’m working on; I’m rereading “National Velvet” [by Enid Bagnold] and Sonora Carver’s memoir “A Girl and Five Brave Horses.” And I’m also reading “Mr. Splitfoot” by Samantha Hunt.
Is there anywhere in the city you go for creative inspiration?
I love walking in Central Park. That’s always been important to me since I was a little kid, going to the sailboat pond with my father. I love going to the movies, that’s most important for me; Village East and Film Forum I frequent the most. And I’ll watch anything — current movies, or typically more old movies that they bring back. [Film] is such an easy way to consume a story, it’s easier than sitting with a novel for a really long time, just remembering the ABCs of narrative and story and plot arc that you can consume in two or three hours and just kind of get away mentally.
You’re going on a pretty extensive author tour. What are you most looking forward to?
My publisher set up the tour for me with focuses on places where I have family and friends, those are the center compasses, and then I’ll be in places surrounding those areas. I’ll be on the East Coast, West Coast, Arizona and Texas. In May I’ll be taking a road trip from New York to Florida with my fiancee and be making some coastal and southern stops. We like to take road trips, and I think I’ll need it after all the flying. I’ll have some time with her and some time in the car, that’s my comfort space. I’m looking forward to meeting so many people and having a dialogue about what’s in the book and our shared experience. And nervous, because I’m shy.
IF YOU GO
T Kira Madden is in conversation with Rick Moody on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Books Are Magic | 225 Smith St., Cobble Hill, booksaremagic.net | FREE