'It's Like a Russian Doll' New Memoir Explores Growing Up in Boca Raton As a Queer Multiracial Woman

Apr 16, 2019

T Kira Madden chronicles her childhood in Boca Raton as a queer and multiracial woman in her new debut memoir, “Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls.”

The text explores traumatic experiences, like sexual assault and grief, and beautiful memories, like friendships and middle-school dances. Both of Madden's parents dealt with drug addiction and she shared on Sundial just how important it was for her to do justice to that experience in her memoir. "People who have addicts in their life can relate to this. You can live such a different life with someone while they're actively using versus when they're in recovery," Madden said. She illustrated the relationship with her father, who was absent for most of her childhood. She first started writing the book as a tribute to him. 

The memoir is structured as fragments or flashes of her memory chronologically and it ends with some shocking revelations that Madden found out while writing the memoir. This memoir is April’s Sundial Book Club title and Madden joined Sundial while on book tour and spoke to host Luis Hernandez about the inspiration behind the memoir and the importance of capturing these memories on the page.

Want to join the fun and read along? Find out more about the Sundial Book Club.

 This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

MADDEN: I was traditionally a fiction writer and I never had any interest in nonfiction until my father passed away. I ended up going to an artist residency and instead of working on my novel I found that I really couldn't find my focus in my fiction. Suddenly, all these questions about my father and my life started sneaking into the story, but I never intended to kind of make a catalog of traumas. I just began where those questions began. Once I opened one memory it opened up other memories.

WLRN: It's always fascinating when you read a memoir as to where a person will start their story. You start with the first chapter, Uncle Nuke, and you write about this mannequin that your mother rescued from a J.C. Penney dumpster. What is the significance of starting the book with the mannequin?

This book came to me through this memory of the mannequin just after my father died. I knew I had this question of whatever happened to the mannequin and I like the idea of different stand-ins we have for fathers, mothers, parents, and it's also just an explosive way to introduce my parents. My mom is the type of person still who would, you know, rescue a dummy from a dumpster and she still has mannequin heads she uses to take the HOV lane in New York City.

I want to do a little bit about that relationship you had with your father growing up and how it changed.

I think of my father as this larger-than-life figure -- the love of my life. And I think that relationship and that presence can be in flux in someone's life. And I think perhaps people who are listeners who have addicts in their life can relate to that idea that you can live such a different life with someone while they're actively using versus when they're in recovery. It's kind of like a lazy one or the other for people to say like, this is a book about fatherlessness or this is a book about father love, mother love and mother lost like those things can coexist. I don't think of myself as fatherless as much as I think of the fatherless tribe of people who are always kind of wrestling within that question of what that means.

At least for me the more touching part of the story was that of your mother's battles. As you were telling these stories and preparing yourself to tell these stories, did you have a strategy on how you wanted to tackle this?

My mother is the exception in that she's the one person I asked for permissions of what I could write about. And I can say, you know, I was very lucky in that she never once told me to take anything out. And it meant so much for me to honor her experience in a way that never felt embarrassing, humiliating. But I think ultimately the reason she didn't want me taking things out she felt that she doesn't have necessarily the platform or vocabulary or skill set to render her experience as an addict but she felt that I could. She felt I could do justice to that experience. I could kind of offer a beating heart and a pulse behind this kind of caricature of addict parent.

You are on book tour right now. What are you hearing from readers?

I think with memoir and nonfiction what you get is really personal reactions and people sharing their own stories with me in a way that wouldn't necessarily happen with fiction. I wrote this book to communicate with people, to open up a dialogue. I wanted to take on things like sexual assault, drug addiction, privilege and race. I wanted to shine a light on those things. Certainly my experience growing up I didn't feel I had the literature I wanted and therefore I felt like I had no one else in the world who could possibly understand what my life was like.

Author T Kira Madden says, "hello" to Sundial Book Club members.