Patrick Madden was the winner of the 2016 AML Creative Non-Fiction Award, for his essay collection Sublime Physick (University of Nebraska Press). Today we present an interview with Madden conducted by Elizabeth Tidwell, a fellow BYU faculty member.
Patrick teaches creative nonfiction at Brigham Young University. His essays have appeared in the Iowa Review, Portland Magazine, Fourth Genre, Hotel Amerika, and other journals, as well as in the Best Creative Nonfiction and the Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. His first essay collection, Quotidiana (Nebraska, 2010), also was given an AML award. He co-edited After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays (Georgia, 2015) with David Lazar and co-translated Eduardo Milán’s Selected Poems (Shearsman, 2012). He maintains an anthology of classical essays and essay resources at quotidiana.org.
As your second collection of essays, what was unique or new this go-round? Did you go about the process differently, mentally or otherwise? Take us into some of the behind-the-scenes elements ofSublime Physick.
This book is actually quite a lot like my first book from a big-picture point of view. They’re each collections of about a dozen essays that derive from my personal experience and meditate, sometimes humorously, always with research, on abstractions. They’re different in their specifics, though. Sublime Physick looks into repentance, loss, worry, empathy, middle-agedness, moments of time, mimicry, the ripple effect, unrecognized endings, points of reference, and originality (oh, boy, does it look into originality, for nearly 100 pages), plus a lot more (if you subdivide the essays, which you should; I do).
One element that carried over from your first collection, Quotidiana, is illustrations throughout the text, which is rather rare in books of essays. Can you talk about that choice? What effect do you hope illustrations have on readers’ experience of this collection?
I hope pictures will become less rare in essay collections (and books in general) for the simple reason that images give readers something different and interesting to focus on and puzzle about, as both supplement and complement, and even as subversion to the text. I include images because 1) it’s easy to do nowadays (with computers for typesetting, instead of lead blocks) and 2) W. G. Sebald and Eduardo Galeano, two of my favorite writers, did it in some of their books, and I found their use of images to be deeply enriching. I hope that readers will pause a bit at the pictures in my books and think of them not only as illustrations showing what the words are already saying, but as another language that accompanies the text in order to enhance and challenge it. For instance, in each book, I’ve included images that give the lie to, that betray, what the text claims. This is one of the little silly games I play when I make a book. Maybe nobody notices, but I have fun with it anyway. Continue Reading →