Two months after her father’s death, T Kira Madden went to a writing residency to work on her first novel. She returned home with the makings of a memoir.
“At first it was going to be a tribute book to my father that was just about him,” Madden says of the scribbled notes that became Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. “Then I realized I can’t really write about this without bringing in this, and my mother started coming into the picture. And I can’t really talk about my mother without talking about drugs. I can’t talk about drugs without talking about horses, etc., etc.—it just grew and grew.”
Madden mostly grew up in tony Boca Raton, the daughter of a Chinese-Hawaiian ex-model mother and rich white shoe mogul father who married several years after her birth. Enrolled in private school and equestrian lessons, she had her own horses, luxury vacations, and unlimited access to the latest, most stylish shoes. But at various points, access to her parents was limited by their addictions, leaving Madden questing for connection.
“I wanted love the size of a fist,” she writes. “Something I could hold, something hot and knuckled and alive. What I wanted was my freckled cheeks printed on cheap paper, stapled at the ears, the flyers torn from telephone poles and the scales of palm trees, a sliver of my face left flapping in the wind. I wanted to be the diametric opposite of who I was; am. To get gone. I wanted limbs dangling from the lip of a trash compactor, found by a lone jogger who would cry at the sight of my ankles, my beaten blue knees with their warm fuzz of kiddie hair.”
In two dozen affecting vignettes, Madden shows that relationships with female family members, friends, and lovers were often her salvation.
“Sometimes I think it’s a book about love and the places we go to find it,” Madden says, “when it’s [withheld] or concealed from us in some way. Other days, it’s about humanizing an addiction story—feeling like I didn’t have that literature when I was going through this as a kid, besides that Drew Barrymore kind-of ghostwritten book [Little Girl Lost, written with Todd Gold]. At some point my mother said, ‘Write the story truthfully because I can’t do it, and for you to make me a person will help me with the shame’ she feels as a drug addict. That’s a big part of it for me.”
Formally inventive, poignant, and powerful, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is “a deeply courageous work that chronicles one artist’s jagged—and surprisingly beautiful—path to wholeness,” Kirkus’ reviewer writes.
“I write for dialogue, for conversation,” Madden says. “I wish I could be one of those people who says, ‘I write for myself, I have to write every day,’ [but] I will not do that. I cannot. I had some journals and diaries when I was younger—I referenced those for this book—but it’s really hard for me to keep a journal now, something that’s just for myself. It feels tedious and tiring.
“I [often] think of something Justin Taylor said in an interview,” she says. “He reads reviews, because if you write for dialogue, why shut down the dialogue once your job is done? As much as I don’t want to read bad reviews, that really resonated with me. Even though it’s scary…the point for me is to have a conversation across time. Lifetimes even, hopefully.”
Megan Labrise is a staff writer and co-host of the Fully Booked podcast.