43.2 Feature: An Interview with T Kira Madden
Photo by Jac Martinez
T Kira Madden is a writer, photographer, and amateur magician living in New York City. She is the founding Editor-in-chief of No Tokens.
Interview by KAYLEB RAE CANDRILLI
Black Warrior Review: “Cousin Cindy” is unlike any other piece of nonfiction I have ever read. It redefines the genre by leaning heavily into the techniques of fiction. Can you talk about how you came to the decision to write “Cousin Cindy” in this fashion? Were there any hardships in drafting that you could discuss for other writers interested in pushing the typical contours of genre?
T Kira Madden: I guess I just don’t see the point in differentiating the two, formally. Both genres have their own unique challenges and advantages, but I think it’s counterproductive to believe we must forgo imagination and structural innovation when writing “nonfiction,” or that we must conceal ourselves and jump through hoops of gimmicky bullshit to write interesting “fiction.” Write what interests you; listen to the piece and how it wants to be told. The shape, the sound, the length—it’ll tell you.
I wrote COUSIN CINDY exactly how those specific memories surrounding that specific person came to me, and it’s a meditation that can be found in most of my work—fiction or nonfiction—this reciprocity of sexual envy and cruelty.
BWR: You are the editor and chief of No Tokens. And I’d like to take this time to thank you for the beautiful work you do, and the work you create a home for. Your journal is run completely by women and non-binary folk. Can you talk a little about how your mission at No Tokens has influenced your own writing mission? Or vise versa?
TKM: My work, our work, on No Tokens has completely shaped my writing, not vise versa. When I founded No Tokens I really didn’t know who I was as a writer—I think I’m really just beginning to figure that out. I recently had a conversation/interview with two fellow hapa writers (Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Violet Kupersmith. Please READ THEM) and we were talking about our characters’ racial identities. In graduate school, I only wrote about white men. I don’t know why. I don’t know a whole lot about white men, and I don’t find them particularly of interest or relevant to the stories I want to tell. I think I tried to write them because I didn’t feel comfortable standing up inside of my own identity, and I didn’t know there was necessarily a place for me.
Our staff members represent such different points of views from all over the world, and I think that’s well represented in the work we choose. The work we publish is so diamond-cut and honest and it’s certainly pushed me into being truer on the page, more courageous, whatever one wants to call it. I learn every day from reading our submissions and discussing them with the geniuses on staff—I consider myself so lucky for that.
BWR: What advice would you give young women and non-binary writers in the current cultural climate? What spaces have you found that feel the safest and most supportive of identity and creativity? Self-care is of the utmost importance. What is your writing related self-care regiment? What advice do you have for young writers that are beginning to tangle with their more difficult narratives?
TKM: Live inside of the work. That’s the safest space I’ve found, and it’s also my self-care. Live inside of Grace Paley and Audre Lorde and Lidia Yuknavitch and Alison Bechdel and Leslie Feinberg and Claudia Rankine and Jamaica Kincaid and Maggie Nelson and Eileen Myles and whomever else serves as your safe space. Live inside of your own work and keep making it, pushing it, sharing it, bending it, because the real work will pierce its way through the noise and save others. Don’t lose sight of that purpose. We’re wading through this same mucky lake together.
BWR: On a lighter note, if stranded on a desert island what book, album, and film would you want to have?
TKM: Lynda Barry’s CRUDDY, Billie Holiday’s LADY IN SATIN, and HAROLD AND MAUDE as a cheat, because it doubles as a Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam album.
BWR: From what space outside the “art world” do you take most inspiration?
TKM: The way shadows stretch and collapse and fade out, the human body, death and death and death and death, the cruelty of children, the cruelty of adults, the cruelty of the dying, the cruelty of memory, jazz music, powerlines and power towers, the humiliation of sexuality and desire, physics (particularly time/distance/speed), Hawaiian mythology, and magic—but isn’t all of that art?
BWR: What can you get us excited for? Do you have anything in the works?
TKM: A memoir, a novel, a (…), and a grocery store horror story, a gorgeous new issue of No Tokens, plus our new website! www.notokensjournal.com
BWR: What song do you have on repeat this week?
TKM: Jessica Pratt’s CASPER: https://youtu.be/Zyh-HIgnzuk and that entire self-titled album. Like snow snakes rising up in my heart. Also, a gift: WKCR streams live jazz here: https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/wkcr/ Bird Flight (a daily forum of Charlie Parker music, hosted by Phil Schaap) runs from 8:20-9:30 AM every morning. It’s my greatest balm in dark times. I hope it will save you, too.