Nonfiction WOW! The Game Show

November 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

Patrick Madden and his team of hooligans (including Michael Martone) staged a romp of a game show at last week’s NonfictioNow Conference in Iowa City.

Mere words cannot express the joy of watching essayists Ned Stuckey-French, David Lazar, and Brenda Miller diaper stuffed animals in the Japanese game show portion of the evening. 

Or the goofiness of watching the Lopates face off against the Gutkinds in Family Feud. 

But pictures can convey the madness, so GO HERE AND SEE THE ACTION.

Or, if you’d rather, change a diaper and get a job.

Mea Culpa: Another Raging Nonfiction Scandal

May 17, 2010 § 9 Comments

Brevity has offered a forum wherein Patrick Madden, past Brevity author, founder/keeper of the extraordinary Quotidiana website, and author of the essay collection Quotidiana, can admit his various nonfiction transgressions.  Frankly, we here at Brevity are still shocked that one of our idols has stooped this low, but kudos to University of Nebraska Press for offering an apology, and a reasonable refund procedure.

Madden’s apology:

As the phone calls, the letters, the legal summonses mount, and the Smoking Gun “journalists” harass me, my family members, and my friends, I have decided to come clean, to declare my guilt preemptively, before I am unmasked by those muckrakers with nothing better to do than to flush a fledgling writer’s career down the toilet. I admit it: I fictionalized key parts of my supposedly nonfiction collection of personal essays, Quotidiana. As a long-time committed nonfictionist, one who teaches his students not to lie, to select and shape their real experiences into literature, I feel so ashamed. I sincerely apologize to those readers who have been disappointed in my actions.

What’s perhaps most disappointing, to me at least, is that it’s been my wife, my father, my mother-in-law, and a good friend who’ve tattled on me. For instance, on page 31, I claim that I only bought ub40’s Greatest Hits when Karina and I were filling out our order of free cds from Columbia House. Karina now assures me that, no, I actually bought this cd from a brick-and-mortar store as a gift for her. And on page 22, where I say that Karina gave our first son the nickname “Pato,” I know now that I should have credited Karina’s mother instead. I can only imagine the anguish I have caused unsuspecting readers who have taken my word for these events. Later in the book, on page 101, I write, perhaps erroneously, that “Helen sang alto harmony to my grandmother’s soprano melody.” Who knows why my father, who had read this particular essay in an earlier form, waited until the book was published to express his doubt about the veracity of this statement. Maybe, he told me, it was Helen who sang the soprano part. Or maybe not. The truth is, right now, we don’t really know. Perhaps the Smoking Gun “investigators” can tell me for sure. And on page 65, at the end of a long, italicized list of Spanish names for fruits and vegetables for sale at Montevideo’s Mercado Modelo, a section of the book that nobody actually reads, I briefly mention the Uruguayans’ preferred word for pineapple, ananá, which I note in contrast to the more widely used piña. Although I have made no claim about the word’s origin, my friend Eduardo Galeano, a wonderful Uruguayan writer, has nevertheless offered the following critique of my research:

I like the book, but here’s just a small observation: if I’m not mistaken, the word ananá is Guaraní, Tupí-Guaraní to be exact, because the fruit comes from Brazil and was unknown outside of tropical America before the European conquest.

I offer the correction or expansion here, in the spirit of penance for my sin of omission. But I suspect there is no forgiveness for the greatest factual error I’ve yet encountered in the book. On page 126, just joking around, I quote some lyrics from a Rush song, replacing “it’s a part of us” with “hippopotamus.” I attribute these lyrics correctly to Neil Peart, but place them in the song “Entre Nous,” which is blatantly false and an embarrassment to me. I claim to be a staunch Rush fan, so how could I not know that these words are from “Different Strings,” the song after “Entre Nous” on 1980’s groundbreaking Permanent Waves?  To this humiliating question, I have no sufficient answer, only excruciating guilt and sorrow.

I regret my decisions to falsify my experience in these (and perhaps other, yet-undiscovered) ways, or my slothfulness in neglecting to check these vital facts of my life. I recognize that I have discredited myself in irreparable ways. I only hope these revelations will not alter my readers’ faith in the book’s central message, whatever that may be.

Thankfully, my publisher has assured me that they will take all steps necessary to put things right with the defrauded public. Taking a page from the Doubleday playbook, they’ve issued the following statement:

The potential for controversy over Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana will possibly in the future cause serious or perhaps only mild concern at the University of Nebraska Press. It is not the policy neither is it the stance of this or any other company that we might or might not know of that it doesn’t matter whether a book sold or lent from libraries as nonfiction isn’t false, or that it might not be misconstrued as having arisen from certain unverities or misfacts. Readers wishing to receive a refund on their purchase should simply cut out the kookaburra from the book’s jacket, paste it on a popsicle stick, and create a YouTube video of the animated bird chanting a page from Quotidiana, making sure to change voices for and properly cite any block-quoted passages. Send your link to refund@quotidiana.org along with your contact information. The best rendition (as voted on by a panel of expert judges) will receive a check for one-tenth of the book’s current lowest Amazon Marketplace price. We try to bear a certain responsibility for some of what we publish, when we can, and we apologize to the reading public for any unintentional confusion, bewilderment, or mystification surrounding or concerning the publication of Quotidiana or any other books, ever.

Are Essays Viable in the Twenty-First Century?

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Patrick Madden, editor of the enormously-wonderful website Quotidiana, and author of the equally-wonderful new essay collection Quotidiana, blogs this week over at The Huffington Post on where the classical essay fits in the current literary spectrum.

An excerpt:

I love essays in general, present and past, which has driven me to spend all sorts of time I don’t have on collecting them … And it sometimes makes me lament that the term essay itself has fallen into disfavor. Just mention the word and watch people’s eyes glaze over, hear them stammer out apologetic platitudes and poorly veiled excuses. People don’t want to read essays. Or they think they don’t.

The biggest (and saddest) cause of this, I believe, is that the word essay has been hijacked, blasphemed, forced into service for the enemy. If by “essay” we mean a punishment assigned in school, a brief bit of prose designed as a rhetorical proof of somebody else’s ideas, then me, too: I hate those things …  But if we mean what Samuel Johnson meant–a “loose sally of the mind; an irregular, undigested piece”–if we agree with Montaigne, the father of the form, that “it is a thorny undertaking…to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds,” yet we make the intent anyway … then count me in! And maybe others will find this form of writing viable, agreeable, enjoyable even!

And the rest of it can be found here, at Huffington Books.

Also, check out the Atlantic Wire re-post/response. They’ve flip-flopped the title to ask “Is the Essay Dead?” and the comments section is rather rough and tumble.

Is the Essay Dead? Patrick Madden Responds

December 7, 2007 § 4 Comments

Patrick Madden, one of our favorite essayists and keeper of the exquisite Quotidiana, responds to our response to Nehring’s thoughts on what is wrong with the essay. [We welcome more responses].

I sympathize with Nehring’s lament, but I, like you, think she’s overstating a lot, which, in my opinion, is an unessayistic move. I don’t think that Montaigne was making grand proclamations; his way was very leisurely and reflexive, and subversive. He did make his way to truths, yes, so maybe that’s the more important point. Emerson, on the other hand, was a Baconian essayist, a guy with Wisdom to impart. He wrote well, had lots of great aphorisms, but he’s not the example I send my students to. My greater problem with what we call “essay” in a lot of contemporary journals jibes with Nehring’s line: “In our own day the essay is an apologetic imitation of the short story.” Writers have been doing autobiographical stories forever. But they’re stories. Essays ought to think more, to essay.

As for the Best American Essays 2007, my problem with it is much the opposite of what Nehring seems to be preaching. I find that too many of the pieces in it are overtly and uninterestingly political. They grab at current issues, state opinions, build arguments with evidence. David Foster Wallace calls them “service essays,” but I call them just articles or opinion pieces. They’re well-written, intelligent, right, etc., but they’re not essaying because their authors set out not to explore and discover but to make a predetermined point. Heck, I largely agree with their points (war is bad, torture is bad, George W. Bush is a knucklehead), but I don’t think we should be calling them essays.

Meanwhile, I think there are plenty of great essays being written, but they’re not widely read, and that IS too bad.

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