(Jerry) David Madden Biography
David Madden comments:
Nationality: American. Born: Knoxville, Tennessee, 1933. Education: Knox High School, Knoxville; Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa), Cedar Falls, 1956; University of Tennessee, Knoxville, B.S. 1957; San Francisco State College, M.A. 1958; Yale Drama School (John Golden fellow), New Haven, Connecticut, 1959-60. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1955-56. Career: Instructor in English, Appalachian State Teachers College, Boone, North Carolina, 1958-59, and Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, 1960-62; lecturer in creative writing, University of Louisville, Kentucky, 1962-64; member of the Department of English, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, and assistant editor, Kenyon Review, 1964-66; lecturer in creative writing, Ohio University, Athens, 1966-68. Writer-in-residence, 1968-92; director, Creative Writing Program, 1992-94; founding director, United States Civil War Center, 1992-99; Donald and Velvia Crumbley professor of creative writing, 1999—, all Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Awards: Rockefeller grant, 1969; National Endowment for the Arts prize, 1970; Bread Loaf Writers Conference William Raney fellowship, 1972.
The Beautiful Greed. New York, Random House, 1961.
Cassandra Singing. New York, Crown, 1969.
Brothers in Confidence. New York, Avon, 1972.
Bijou. New York, Crown, 1974.
The Suicide's Wife. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1978.
Pleasure-Dome. Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1979.
On the Big Wind. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1980.
Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1996.
The Shadow Knows. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1970.
The New Orleans of Possibilities. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
Uncollected Short Stories
"My Name Is Not Antonio," in Yale Literary Magazine (New Haven, Connecticut), March 1960.
"Hair of the Dog," in Adam (Los Angeles), April-November 1967.
"The Master's Thesis," in Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York), July 1967.
"Nothing Dies But Something Mourns," in Carleton Miscellany (Northfield, Minnesota), Fall 1968.
"The Day the Flowers Came," in The Best American Short Stories 1969, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
"A Voice in the Garden," in English Record (Oneonta, New York), October 1969.
"Traven," in Short Stories from the Little Magazines, edited by Jarvis Thurston and Curt Johnson. Chicago, Scott Foresman, 1970.
"Home Comfort," in Jeopardy (Bellingham, Washington), March 1970.
"No Trace," in The Best American Short Stories 1971, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
"Night Shift," in Playboy's Ribald Classics 3. Chicago, Playboy Press, 1971.
"A Secondary Character," in Cimarron Review (Stillwater, Oklahoma), July 1972.
"The Spread-Legged Girl" (as Jack Travis), in Knight (Los Angeles), October 1972.
"The Singer," in Scenes from American Life: Contemporary Short Fiction, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. New York, Vanguard Press, 1973.
"Here He Comes! There He Goes!," in Contempora (Atlanta, Georgia), Summer 1973.
"Wanted: Ghost Writer," in Epoch (Ithaca, New York), Fall 1973.
"The World's One Breathing," in Appalachian Heritage (Pippa Passes, Kentucky), Winter 1973. "Hurry Up Please, It's Time," in The Botteghe Oscure Reader, edited by George Garrett and Katherine Garrison Biddle. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1974.
"The Hero and the Witness," in New Orleans Review, vol. 4, no. 3, 1974.
"On the Big Wind," in The Pushcart Prize 5, edited by Bill Henderson. Yonkers, New York, Pushcart Press, 1980.
"Putting an Act Together," in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Winter 1980.
"Code-a-Phone," in Crescent Review (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), vol. 1, no. 1, 1983.
"Lights," in New Letters (Kansas City), Winter 1984-85.
"Rosanna," in South Dakota Review (Vermillion), Summer 1985.
"Was Jesse James at Rising Fawn?," in South Dakota Review (Vermillion), Autumn 1985.
"Willis Carr at Bleak House," in The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1987.
"Gristle," in Appalachian Heritage (Berea, Kentucky), Spring-Summer 1988.
"Children of the Sun," in New Letters (Kansas City), Summer 1988.
"The Invisible Girl," in The Southern California Anthology 7. Los Angeles, University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing Program, 1989.
"The Demon in My View," in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Spring 1989.
"Crossing the Lost and Found River," in Chattahoochie Review (Dunwoody, Georgia), Winter 1989.
"James Agee Never Lived in This House," in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Spring 1990.
"A Forgotten Nightmare," in The Southern Californian Anthology (Los Angeles), 1991.
"The Last Bizarre Tale," in Southern Short Stories. Huntsville, Texas, Huntsville Texas Review Press, 1991.
A Survivor of the Sinking of the Sultana," in Appalachian Heritage (Berea, Kentucky), 1992.
"If the Ash Heap Begins to Glow Again … " in Louisiana English Journal (Eunice, Louisiana), October 1993.
"Fragments Found on the Field," in Gulf Coast Collection (Montrose, Alabama), 1994.
"Hairtrigger Pencil Lines," in Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine (New Orleans), Spring 1994.
Call Herman in to Supper (produced Knoxville, Tennessee, 1949).
They Shall Endure (produced Knoxville, Tennessee, 1953).
Cassandra Singing (produced Knoxville, Tennessee, 1955). Published in New Campus Writing 2, edited by Nolan Miller, New York, Putnam, 1957; (expanded version, produced Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1964).
From Rome to Damascus (produced Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1959).
Casina, music by Robert Rogers, lyrics by Joseph Matthewson (produced New Haven, Connecticut, 1960).
In My Father's House, in First Stage (Lafayette, Indiana), Summer 1966.
Fugitive Masks (produced Abingdon, Virginia, 1966).
The Day the Flowers Came (produced Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1974). Chicago, Dramatic Publishing Company, 1975.
Wright Morris. New York, Twayne, 1965.
The Poetic Image in Six Genres. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.
James M. Cain. New York, Twayne, 1970.
Harlequin's Stick, Charlie's Cane: A Comparative Study of Commedia dell'Arte and Silent Slapstick Comedy. Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular Press, 1975.
A Primer of the Novel, For Readers and Writers. Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1980.
Writers' Revisions: An Annotated Bibliography of Articles and Books about Writers' Revisions and Their Comments on the Creative Process, with Richard Powers. Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1981.
Cain's Craft. Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1985.
Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers. New York, New American Library, 1988.
The Fiction Tutor. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt Brace, 1990.
A Pocketful of Essays: Thematically Arranged. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt College Publishers, 2001.
Editor, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.
Editor, Proletarian Writers of the Thirties. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.
Editor, American Dreams, American Nightmares. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.
Editor, Rediscoveries: Informal Essays in Which Well-Known Novelists Rediscover Neglected Works of Fiction by One of Their Favorite Authors. New York, Crown, 1971.
Editor, with Ray B. Browne, The Popular Cultural Explosion: Experiencing Mass Media. Dubuque, Iowa, William Brown, 2 vols., 1972.
Editor, Nathanael West: The Cheaters and the Cheated. Deland, Florida, Everett Edwards, 1973.
Editor, with Jeffrey J. Folks, Remembering James Agee. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1974.
Editor, Creative Choices: A Spectrum of Quality and Technique in Fiction. Chicago, Scott Foresman, 1975.
Editor, with Virgil Scott, Studies in the Short Story. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1975; 6th edition, 1984.
Editor, with Peggy Bach, Rediscoveries II. New York, Carroll and Graf, 1988.
Editor, 8 Classic American Novels. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1990.
Editor, The World of Fiction (short stories). Fort Worth, Texas, Holt Rinehart, 1990.
Editor, with Peggy Bach, Classics of Civil War Fiction. Jackson, University of Mississippi, 1991.
Editor, A Pocketful of Prose: Contemporary Short Fiction. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt Brace, 1992.
Editor, A Pocketful of Plays: Vintage Drama. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt Brace, 1996.
Editor, A Pocketful of Poems: Vintage Verse. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt Brace, 1996.
Editor, Beyond the Battlefield: The Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Times of the Civil War Soldier. New York, Touchstone, 2000.
Editor, The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
Editor, with Kimberly J. Allison, A Pocketful of Essays. Fort Worth, Texas, Harcourt Brace, 2001.
"A David Madden Bibliography 1952-1981" by Anna H. Perrault, in Bulletin of Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut), September 1982.
University of Tennessee Library, Knoxville.
"A Conversation with David Madden," and "The Mixed Chords of David Madden's Cassandra Singing " by Sanford Pinsker, in Critique (Atlanta), vol. 15, no. 2, 1973; "An Interview with David Madden," in The Penny Dreadful (Bowling Green, Ohio), vol. 3, no. 3, 1974; "The Story Teller as Benevolent Con Man" by Madden, in Appalachian Heritage (Pippa Passes, Kentucky), Summer 1974; interviews in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), vol. 11, no. 1, 1975, New Orleans Review, Spring 1982, and Louisiana Literature (Hammond), Fall 1984; by Jeffrey Richards in Contemporary Poets, Dramatists, Essayists, and Novelists of the South, edited by Robert Bain and Joseph M. Flora, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994.
I've been trying all my life to pass the test F. Scott Fitzgerald set for himself. "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Camus's concept of the absurd helped clarify Fitzgerald's: one's life should be a self-created contradiction of the fact that life is basically absurd. A similar polarity has given some form to my art as well as my life. It was not books but my grandmother's storytelling and the movies' charged images that inspired me to write. My first literary hero was the Dionysian Thomas Wolfe; then came the Apollonian James Joyce. In the tensions between those two extremes I have tried to shape my own work. I have practiced for a long time now the concept that it is between the limitations externally imposed by the form I'm working in and limitations I imposed on myself in the writing of a specific work that I experience genuine and productive freedom. Two metaphors of the artist (and the teacher) are useful for me: the magician and the con man. As with the magician's techniques of illusion, art works by a phantom circuit; and the relationship between writer and reader is like that between the con man and his mark, except that the climax (the sting) is beneficial for both. For me, the function of fiction is to create imaginary words; discipline and technique enable me to cause that to happen. And in that process I consider my reader as an active collaborator.
(1995) Because it is on the crest of a single great wave of creative energy that I enter up all the activities in my life and in my writing, I reject the perception that the fact that I have not published a novel in fifteen years is evidence of diminished capacity. In all that time, I have researched and revised Sharpshooter, a Civil War novel, and published fourteen chapters from it. I have also created the United States Civil War Center. I have the first draft of a book that provides a unique perspective on ancient London Bridge (1110 to 1828). I have always worked simultaneously on five major projects, while taking up dozens of other life and literary projects. Surfing on the one great, never-ending wave of creative force is the life-work for me.
(2000) Recently, in my mid-sixties, as a matter of cold fact, I came to see that most of my fiction, and the best of it, reaches into unique characters or predicaments and unique other places, and unique other selves—unique in both life and literature, as I have lived, read, and imagined them.
From childhood, my fiction was written in a specific place and out of the specific oral traditions of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and out of radio drama and the movies, more than out of classic and modern literature. But the lure has always been nonspecific, extraordinary other places where my ordinary characters could explore and create unique other selves. For some characters, that uniqueness lasts only for the time duration of the fiction, for others, it is permanent. My characters cross the border between the ordinary and the extraordinary very rapidly.
Reading my contemporaries, I seldom see inclinations toward the kind of stories and novels I have just described as my own. I feel very little affinity for them or their work, except for Steven Millhauser. Although my masters in the art of fiction are Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Conrad, and Mansfield, I see now, looking back at the age of 67, more kinship in the creation of character and situation with Poe, Borges, Marquez, Michel Tournier, Jules Romains, Kafka, John Collier, A. E. Coppard, E. M. Forster. "Tales of Mystery and Imagination," title of a Poe collection, fits my own corpus.
In my childhood, I viewed every specific place (my bedroom) and every general place (my hometown) as other, and even as I moved from place to place, my imagination was stimulated to create other places, other selves (for my characters, more than myself). Sometimes the more specific the place and time, in the conventional sense (San Francisco in 1957, for instance), the more my imagination reached for possibilities beyond. In my novel in progress (since Christmas 1991), London Bridge Is Falling Down, nothing could be more specific than a bridge, even one with almost 200 houses and shops built on it. The first version reaches back and forth in time over the 800-year history of the ancient bridge and draws on times, places, people, real and imagined, and events up to the 365 nights I took nocturnal walks on London Bridge. For instance, Harpo Marx shows up on the bridge in the year 1342. Fragments of a story and facts about the building, maintenance, and final demolition of the bridge are scattered throughout those walks in words. My recent conversion to Christianity may affect the way I revise that first draft, but it won't be less other in time, place, and character, nor less exotic, bizarre, and demonic.
"When I am writing, I am far away and when I return I have already left." Neruda, Muchos Somos.
* * *
Much of David Madden's fiction is autobiographical. Like Lucius Hutchfield in Bijou, Madden goes over his personal history again and again, remolding details. Incidents appear in more than one work; short stories are absorbed into novels; the short novel Brothers in Confidence becomes the first half of the longer novel Pleasure-Dome, as Madden works at perfecting the tale of his life. Arranged in chronological order Madden's fictional autobiography would begin with two stories from The Shadow Knows, "The Pale Horse of Fear" and the title story, then continue on through Bijou, The Beautiful Greed, Pleasure-Dome, to the elegiac story "The World's One Breathing."
Madden's goal is to transport his readers into "the Pleasure-Dome." As Lucius says in the novel of that name, "Everyday life is an effort to disentangle facts and illusions. There are rare moments in our lives when we transcend captivity in fact-and-illusion through pure imagination and dwell in the Pleasure-Dome, a luminous limbo between everyday experience and a work of art." Lucius knows well the value of a good story. He is an aspiring writer, and his older brother is a con man—which for Madden is nearly the same thing: "The relationship between the storyteller and the listener is like that between the con man and his mark," Madden has said. Madden himself is at his best when emulating the oral storytelling style he learned from his grandmother when he was growing up in the Tennessee hills, the setting of much of his fiction.
In the stories collected in The Shadow Knows the characters are caught between the knowledge that their old lives—in many cases rural or small town lives—are disappearing, and that the new lives available to them are spiritually unsatisfying. Madden's world here is primarily one of moonshiners and county fairs, motorcycles and coalmines, but a few of these stories are set outside the mountains. "Love Makes Nothing Happen," set in Alaska, is the best of these, while "The Day the Flowers Came," set in some faceless suburb, is maudlin and unbelievable. Two of the mountain stories here turn up as Lucius's memories in Bijou.
Bijou picks up Lucius's story in early adolescence, when he becomes an usher in a movie theater. Lucius tries to reinvent his life in the image of the films he sees. The Bijou itself is a symbol of the exotic mysteries of adulthood: "… the Bijou … seemed foreign, beyond his life, as if he were entering a special Bijou experience prematurely. The Bijou was somehow for other people, people who were superior to him because they'd had Bijou experiences he hadn't had." The promising framework of the theater as Lucius's doorway into adulthood is unfortunately overloaded with page after page of movie synopses, and undercut by the repetitive nature of his experiences with the other characters. We last see Lucius lurking about Thomas Wolfe's house, ready to give up films for the idea of the writer's life.
The Beautiful Greed relates the adventures of a young man named Alvin (who is just a little older than Lucius at the end of Bijou) on a merchant marine voyage to South America. This novel was Madden's first, and it seems thin in almost all regards when compared to his later works, though the plot here is unusually straight for Madden.
Pleasure-Dome is perhaps Madden's finest novel to date, despite a structure of two clumsily hinged together story lines. Lucius Hutchfield is once again the main character. He has been in the merchant marine and has become a writer since the events of Bijou. Lucius spends the first half of the novel trying to free his younger brother from jail by using his storytelling gifts. But it is the eldest brother, the con man, who succeeds in this—by telling taller tales than those Lucius tells. The second half is a cautionary tale about the responsibilities of being a storyteller. A boy's outlaw side lies dormant until Lucius awakens it with a story about Jesse James. The boy tries to emulate the outlaw's success with a young woman, with disastrous results. Though the boy goes to prison he is happy: he has on some small scale entered the world of legendary figures.
Cassandra Singing, the story of a wild boy and his invalid sister, is generally considered one of Madden's least autobiographical works, but it would be more accurate to say that Madden's character is here split between Lone and his sister Cassie. Lone is the motorcycle rider, the one with the need to escape the small world of the hills, while bedridden Cassie's life is in touch with the country's oral tradition, through the songs and stories she knows. That these two lie down together as the novel's end may be more of a self-portrait than a suggestion of incest. On the Big Wind is a loose string of satiric sketches with obvious targets, tied together by the voice of Big Bob Travis, nomadic radio announcer. The most telling thing here is "The World's One Breathing," spliced in from The Shadow Knows.
The Suicide's Wife stands apart from the rest of Madden's work. It is the story of a woman, and a story of the city. The language and plot are very spare and straightforward. Ann Harrington's husband kills himself, leaving "a vacuum into which things rushed." The novel is the story of Ann's struggle to gain a command over these "things," which is also the struggle to open herself to possibilities: "Before, I had never really imagined possibilities. Since she never caused events, they just happened, and she took them as they came." Ann's triumph over the foreboding world of "things" is symbolized by her successful quest to earn a driver's license, an official recognition of her right to take herself where she wants to go.
—William C. Bamberger
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