Vol. 111 (2021)

Five Questions for Author T Kira Madden






T Kira Mahealani Madden is a Chinese, Kānaka Maoli writer, photographer and amateur magician. With 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 is a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in nonfiction literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has received fellowships from MacDowell, Hedgebrook, Tin House, DISQUIET, Summer Literary Seminars and Yaddo, where she was selected for the 2017 Linda Collins Endowed Residency Award. She also facilitates writing workshops for homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals and will join the Department of English at College of Charleston, S.C., in the Fall of 2021.


Her debut memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, was a New York Times Editors' Choice selection, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, a finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Award for lesbian memoir, winner of the 2021 Judith A. Markowitz Award for exception new LGBTQ writers, and is in development to become a feature film.


Stay Thirsty Magazine was excited to visit with T Kira for these Five Question and to learn more about her important, well-received first book.



STAY THIRSTY: At the end of your debut book, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls - A Memoir, in the Acknowledgment section, you write that this book "was written because once, a little girl needed more stories like her own." And "... for anyone with a story to tell and a will to rise. Write it down. You are not alone ..." When did you decide to write this memoir and what gave you the courage to be so forthcoming and honest?


T KIRA MADDEN: This book was such a gradual understanding; I often say I didn’t choose to write it, it happened to me. I’m a fiction writer, and I was working on a novel when my father died. When I returned to the page, my fictional characters became blurry—I couldn’t see them or hear them or make out their outlines—and instead my father kept showing up, and then my mother, and then WOOSH I let the metaphorical boulder do its thing, and wrote through the questions and memories I had to write, with the understanding that they were “side pages,” ones I needed to produce in order to return to the real work. Then I met my agent who said, hey, let’s take another look at these “side pages,” and consider developing them into a book. There was no single decision. It rolled out, and I figured it out as I went, and it grew as I grew, and I’m still learning to live with it in the world.


STAY THIRSTY: Your book garnered an exceptional number of glittering reviews. While you were writing it, did you think about how it would be received by the critics and the public? Did its reception surprise you? How did you handle the outpouring of praise?


T KIRA MADDEN: My only hope for this book was that it would find its people. I hoped it would land with one person or many people who might need it, that reading it would feel like a secret or inside joke or conversation the way the most transcendent interactions with art often do. I feel incredibly lucky that that’s happened, and so much of it really is just that—luck. Timing. We all know great books are missed, and books without blood are often applauded, and much of it is random and orchestrated by the greater machines of capitalism and “market trends” and other factors I find completely uninteresting. So I linger on the people who’ve found the book, who have reached out or written me because they felt seen in it. I received a note like that the week it came out and that was enough. I hold the rest very loosely in my hands.



STAY THIRSTY: The issues of race, identity and trauma are central themes in your life's story. Did putting "pen to paper" grant you further insight into yourself, your life and your destiny? Did you have one overarching revelation?


T KIRA MADDEN: I observed how deeply I’ve internalized homophobia and racism because of the laws of my life and surroundings growing up, and through that observation I learned that unraveling the self-loathing and self-harming behaviors will be a task always; I didn’t “come out the other side” by writing it down. There is no finish line, no indicator of healed. It’s daily work, to celebrate myself, to move forward with less anger and more grace.



STAY THIRSTY: To all those young women struggling with their girlhood, their adolescence, their desires and their families, what advice can you give them about their future?


T KIRA MADDEN: I’d like to think my book pushes beyond constructs of gender or girlhood and that it might speak to larger questions and themes like shame, identity and knowingness, outsidership in its myriad forms, and good people who love in messy, prickly ways. I’m afraid Long Live offers no advice—I know so little—but my life has been made tremendously better by making things, writing things down, moving through days as an artist and observer of the world and its astounding phenomena and gifts. I would advise anyone, I suppose, to nurture the ways in which they observe and marvel.


T Kira Madden

STAY THIRSTY: With feelings of longing and loss, love and forgiveness coursing through your mind and body, how did you find your voice as a writer and what opened the floodgates of truth and candor as you confronted your personal history? Looking back, do you ever have second thoughts about going so public with your private thoughts?


T KIRA MADDEN: I’ve no regrets about sharing my private thoughts; I only regret the way I shared the thoughts of others, or, more accurately, my limited interpretation of others’ thoughts. I’m not sure there’s ever a way to get it right, though I did the best I could, and my thoughts on the ethics of nonfiction and narrative power dynamics would fill another book.


In terms of voice: reading, writing, reading more—it’s all practice. I find the music of the work through reading and listening. I consider syllabic resonance and meter and consecution, the percussion of what I want and how I want it said. The content, the story, the honesty, that’s all there; there’s no drought of vulnerability or ideas, no “writer’s block” or floodgates to open, only the task of balancing the sentences like equations and finding the beautiful. Sometimes, that’s the simplest question and all that matters: is it beautiful? Does it light up from the inside? Can there be more beauty?

(Photo of T Kira Madden credit: Jac Martinez)




T Kira Madden    



All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.