Interview: An Interview with Marjorie Maddox

Book Names and Descriptions – New Releases:
What She Was Saying
True, False, None of the Above
Wives’ Tales
Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises
A Man Named Branch: the True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment: middle-grade biography


Covers

What She Was Saying: collection of short stories, flash fiction, and micro-essays all told from the points of view of women of diverse ages, backgrounds, and experiences (Fomite Press, 2017).

In these powerful stories, What She Was Saying softens the already thin line between hope and hopelessness, between perseverance and despair, between what can and cannot be said. Throughout the collection, diverse women startle, question, comfort, and proclaim, compelling readers to confront a company of others. A finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter and Eludia book awards—as well as a semifinalist for Black Lawrence Press’s Hudson, Eastern Washington University’s Spokane, and Leapfrog Press’s book prizes—What She Was Saying gives voice to the lives we all need to hear.

What She Was Saying is available on Amazon: Click Here.
What She Was Saying is available on FomitePress: Click Here.

 

True, False, None of the Above: poetry (Poeima Poetry Series, 2016; Illumination Book Award Medalist)

True, False, None of the Above poetically explores what it means to write, read, and teach literature in a world that—at turns—rejects, embraces, or shrugs indifferently at the spiritual. This is a book on the intersection of words and belief, on how books mark and mirror our lives, and how sometimes the journey we experience on the page leads us to faith. 

True, False, None of the Above is available on Amazon: Click Here.

 

Wives’ Tales (Editor’s Series, Seven Kitchens Press, 2017)

This chapbook is divided into two sections: “The Tales,” retellings of fairy tales in the same vein as Anne Sexton’s Transformations, and “The Wives,” poems told from the points of view of the wives of famous men named Peter (Peter the Great, Peter Pumpkin Eater, Pete Rose, St. Peter, and the like).

Wives Tales is available on Seven Kitchens Press: Click Here.

 

Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises (Schoolwide, Inc.)

Welcome to a world of mind-doodling, eye-dazzling, ear-bending, new-fangled, old-fashioned fun! Inside Out teaches writing (and reading) to 4th through 9th graders from inside the poem, with plenty of tips and tricks for everyone inside and outside of the classroom. Chat with personification, dance with iambic, fish for sestinas, and text with a triolet. In twenty-seven poems plus eight Insider Exercises, this book will jump-start your writing. This book is marketed to teachers and their students across the country through Schoolwide’s new Zing program.

Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises is available on Marjorie’s Website: Click Here.

 

A Man Named Branch: the True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment: middle-grade biography (Schoolwide, Inc.)

One of the great names in all of baseball, Branch Rickey was the author of a “Great Experiment”: the racial integration of baseball. With Jackie Robinson as his partner in breaking baseball’s color barrier, Branch changed social history. It was Branch who dreamed up blackboard talks, sliding pits, spring training in Florida, and the Knothole Gang. This biography of the player, coach, lawyer, and general manager was written by his great-grandniece. She poetically weaves Branch’s story, following his career with the St. Louis Browns, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and most famously the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A Man Named Branch: the True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment: middle-grade biography is available on Marjorie’s Website: Click Here.

 

On Defining Education
By Marjorie Maddox

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond;
cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
-Mark Twain

Isn’t the seed better,
its tough, hard case
beneath the juice?
Flesh? Just so much puffing up,
skin gone soft with too much rouge.
Better to be tossed out than consumed,
lusted after by the colon.

Or what of that lower-class cabbage
shredded to bits, thrown haphazardly in soups?
Whole, she’s the Cinderella that steals the show
for the truly hungry.

Nobody likes cauliflower
cowering on fine china,
the ugly sister decorated
with a sterling ladle’s worth of cheese.

Please, feel free to confront.
I’m not talking about who you should be
but are. Let’s start with the essence of seed
and see what sprouts from there.

 

Marjorie Maddox
www.marjoriemaddox.com

 

What gave you the idea for your books?

What She Was Saying

Although primarily a poet, I have always been fascinated by the blurring of boundaries between genres. This collection of short fiction, flash fiction, and brief creative nonfiction allowed me to explore in a new way power, silences, and spirituality through the voices of thirty-three women of diverse backgrounds, ages, and experiences as they face the struggles and successes of being female. What, the collection asks, are women saying about careers, art, health, religion, relationships, strength, survival, childbirth, infertility, parenting, aging, and care of elderly parents? What do these women also tell us of perseverance and hope? Ultimately, What She Was Saying is both about finding your voice and listening to the voices of those women who’ve gone before you.

 

True, False, None of the Above

As a professor of English, I believe literature has very much to do with our daily lives. It is not an escape from, but rather a confrontation with reality, a reality that includes the overarching struggles of the soul. Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write to discover what I know.” Joan Didion echoed, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” True, False, None of the Above examines how writing, reading, and teaching lead us to discovery by bringing us face-to-face with the world we live in and the world to come. Many of the poems in the collection are responses to texts I teach in the classroom, and, in turn, what such works have to do with our lives here and now.

 

Wives’ Tales

I’ve always been fascinated by the dark underside of fairy tales. Such stories instill fear but also wisdom. The first section, “The Tales,” allowed me to retell the familiar in an unusual, often feminist, sometimes humorous, and hopefully thought-provoking way. The second section, “The Wives,” allowed me to look into the lives of the women married to famous men named Peter. How, I asked myself, would the stories of these husbands be told differently from the wives’ points of view?

 

Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises

A fun collection to write, for this book I drew on my experiences of both writing and teaching (in addition to my college position) as a visiting author at elementary and middle schools. The Table of Contents will tell you a lot about this book—poems on how to see, smell, hear, taste, and touch a poem; an English sonnet on how to write an English sonnet, a villanelle on how to write a villanelle; a Frankenstein poem on personification (and much, much more), plus a helpful glossary and detailed writing exercises for in and outside of the classroom.

 

A Man Named Branch: The True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment

Walk into any room of children or adults and say the name “Jackie Robinson.” Heads will nod, hands will raise, and at least one individual will proudly proclaim, “Jackie, yea, Jackie’s my hero.”  In 1947, filled with courage, skill, and determination, Jackie Robinson changed history by becoming the first African American player in the major leagues.

As the great grandniece of Branch Rickey—the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who helped break the color barrier by signing Robinson—I grew up with tales of my great granduncle, the Robinsons, and their “Great Experiment,” a courageous and necessary venture that shaped not only their lives, but history as well. (I was fortunate enough a few years ago to give readings at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where I was blessed to meet Rachel Robinson in person. A treat!)

Another great personal benefit in writing this biography was talking again with my mother and relatives about all their memories of “Uncle Branch.” One of my prized possessions:  a photograph at a family birthday party with my great granduncle. (See attached.)

Here is a very brief essay about watching the movie 42 with my mother.

How did I begin the biography? The phrase “His name was Branch and in his brain was brewing a great experiment” kept going through my mind. I followed that sentence, wondering how a farm boy from Duck Run, Ohio, kept ideas “brewing in his brain,” ideas that led to baseball’s integration and eventually helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement. That young man, who stood up to bullies in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Ohio, kept standing up for others throughout his life. That fascinated me. Why write the biography for middle-graders? I couldn’t think of a better reason than those very same lessons, that and the tremendous courage of Jackie Robinson.

 

What got you into writing in this genre?

I write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature. All writing is creative. Composing in several genres gives me different ways to approach a topic or audience.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to switch things up a bit!

 As far as the children’s books (my most recent venture), I owe that to a children’s librarian! I was giving a poetry reading at Penn State University, after which the head children’s librarian, Steven Herb, loved the way I “played around with words.” He encouraged me to write and submit a book for children to Boyds Mills Press. Soon after, with Steven’s encouragement, I wrote, submitted, and had published Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems and (on collective nouns) A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry.

 

How long have you been writing?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where writing was encouraged. My mother used to type up my poems and stories into little “books” when I was young. My first “publication” was in Campfire Girl Magazine when I was eight. (It was pretty bad!) I’ve been writing ever since and went on to get a Masters with a creative thesis at the University of Louisville (where I worked with the fiction writer Sena Jeter Naslund) and an MFA in poetry writing at Cornell (where I worked with A. R. Ammons and Bob Morgan). I now teach English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories?

Each of my books has a slightly different focus.  My first book Perpendicular As I , which won the Sandstone Book Award, explores identity and relationships. Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, which won the Yellowglen Prize, examines my father’s unsuccessful heart transplant. Weeknights at the Cathedral  details my spiritual journey. Local News from Someplace Else looks at living in an unsafe world.  The children’s book A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry centers on collective nouns like “a school of fish.” I love Philip Huber’s powerful illustrations! Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems  poetically describes various baseball terms: balk, strike, double-play, grand slam, etc. I live in Williamsport, home of the Little League World Series, and wrote these while sitting in my former backyard, which overlooked a ball field.

There are other books as well. Please see www.marjoriemaddox.com for descriptions and reviews.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

As a university professor and director of a creative writing program and reading series, I have a very busy schedule. Add to that the roles of wife and mother, and the large slots for writing disappear quickly. Before having children, I fiercely protected several days as “all-writing” days. That just didn’t work with the added role of mother. However, I find that I get almost as much written these days over winter and summer breaks. The ideas are always percolating in the back of my brain and bubble up once a larger block of time is available.

Once I do have that time, my preferred place is in my house (without distractions) on our sun porch, where I can look outside and let my mind wander. I often compose out loud, so it can help not having someone else in the room or someone nearby needing my attention.

My other preferred place to write is anywhere where I am anonymous: a coffee shop, an airport, etc. In these spaces, I am not tempted to procrastinate by doing anything besides writing…

But now we are empty-nesters. It will be interesting to see how that will affect my writing.

The biggest influences on my writing? I am particularly intrigued by the intersections of body and spirit both in my everyday life, in my relationships, and in what I am reading and discussing with others, including my students.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I think most writers keep coming back, in different ways, to the same themes. I do think, though, that it has helped me grow as an author by experimenting with several different genres. It’s helpful to keep pushing your writing self in different directions and beyond sometimes self-imposed boundaries of theme and style.

 

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

For me: time alone, time with others, a cup of coffee, a laptop, Submittable, some good books, some good music, and a place to stretch your legs and your mind.

 

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

Not sure about the best, but here are some that come to mind:

You can’t be a writer unless you actually write.
Take risks with your writing.
Don’t be afraid to let your writing sit for a while before you come back to it.
Be persistent. Don’t give up. (This one is really hard.)


How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I’ve always been able to switch between the business-of-submitting-writing-hat and the more important actual-writing-the-writing hat. (More often than I care to admit, the submission process occurs when I am procrastinating and unable to face the harder task of composing.) I am even good at teaching these necessary “business” skills to my students.

But now there’s the added hat of marketing.  I am not a cocktail party conversationalist. I am not good at hobnobbing.  It’s not part of my personality. Walking into a large room where I know absolutely no one still terrifies me. At heart, I am an introvert.

And yet, I am very comfortable (and animated) as a teacher. I direct a reading series and am good at marketing others’ work. I love to give readings of my own work and interact with others. I am an email junkie; I like the one-on-one correspondence. It has to do with rapport and connection, I think.

These days writers need to market and promote themselves. I prefer to first build the relationships and let the rest follow. That’s not always, though, how the world works. And so, I’m becoming braver. Just this past year, I came very late to the game called Facebook. I should have tried it earlier. I’ve already learned some strategies from others about marketing.

I see where the writers I most admire publish their work, and I try there. I see where they give readings, and I write an email to the host. I use Submittable. I take more risks. I try not to let it bother me when I am rejected or when I never receive an answer. I give readings where 50 people show up and where 5 people show up. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I am sorely disappointed. Often it is hard to predict which event will lead to something wonderful; I try to see all as opportunities to meet other writers and readers. Because writing is such a solitary act, it can be invigorating and encouraging to connect with an audience.

So I’m learning to put on the marketing hat, too.  I’m even having fun.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

That depends on which day you ask. Because it is my very first collection of fiction, these days I am excited about the publication of What She Was Saying.

In addition, my book Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiationwhich is dedicated to my father and his transplant donor—is especially important to me. My father had his first heart attack when he was 39; as one poem’s title puts it, “Growing up Dying” was part of my childhood. He died at the age of 65 after an unsuccessful heart transplant, and the book addresses this on medical, physical, emotional, metaphorical, and spiritual levels.

As a teacher, I’m also excited about True, False, None of the Above as it pulls together poems about my day job—that great joy (and sometimes tribulations) of discussing literature and writing with students. I was excited that this collection was an Illumination Book Award Medalist in the field of EDUCATION!

And there’s some humor in there as well!

 

For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?

Books on baseball, relationships, faith, medicine, teaching and writing—all of these “interests,” of course, make up who I am. Perhaps the more important question might be, what most interests the reader? I address a large range of topics and interests, so I hope there’s a little something for everyone.

 

What are you doing next?

This past summer I wrote a number of poems and book reviews. I also, as part of my visiting author position at Chautauqua Institution, wrote a long essay entitled “Confronting This World One Poem at a Time.” Writing is a process of discovery, so I am always discovering more about the world, others, and myself. That, in turn, gives me other ideas for writing new poems, stories, and essays. Writing and reading feed more writing and reading.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Most people, I believe, grow up loving words—the rhythm of a story, the music in the nursery rhyme. That love and passion can be encouraged (and I was fortunate in this aspect) or, unfortunately, sometimes squashed. Too many times, I’ve heard even teens describe the arts as impractical. But the opposite is true, isn’t it?  Literature has very much to do with our everyday lives.

My philosophy: stick with your passion. Find a way to make it work. It may or may not be the same as your “day job”; you may or may not have the support of family, but find a way to develop that interest and talent. Advice? Most writers will tell you the same: Read! Write! Read! Write! Revise! Revise! Read! Write! Give yourself the foundation of strong and diverse literature. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, see what makes you feel as if the top of your head were taken off.  Write something like it. Write something completely different. Get together with others and talk about it. Write some more.

 

Popular Reviews for Marjorie’s Books:

For What She Was Saying:

“From the ingenious title to the last story, What She Was Saying is a study of the gap between the covert and the overt. Alienation, isolation, desperation are here writ both small and large; their echo is a humanistic plea for inclusiveness, community, friendship, and simple love and kindness, one to another. Wonderfully crafted, honest, and bold, Marjorie Maddox’s work always brings her readers to new levels of perceptiveness about the big picture as well as minute moments.” –Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife and The Fountain of St. James Court, or Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

“This collection reveals a beguiling new voice in contemporary fiction. . . . Maddox s stories open up unexpected, little noticed corners of our world. . . . Some read like fables; some surprise with bold humor. All celebrate the mystery of the familiar, the strangeness of the ordinary, and the humanity of marginal lives.” –Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek

“These are luscious stories, packed with unflinching honesty and the earthshaking kind of beauty that makes us brave.” –Fiona Cheong, author of Scent of the Gods and Shadow Theatre

For True, False, None of the Above:

“In True, False, None of the Above, Maddox offers us a brilliant, witty, and vulnerable garland of poems. Here is the voice of a teacher, a poet, a mother and wife, a woman of faith bearing witness to a deep and lasting Truth, summoning–among others–the likes of Dante, Hopkins, Dickinson, Eliot, and Frost, each calling out to the other, often at scintillant cross-purposes, all set choiring to this magisterial teacher’s gentle bidding.” –Paul Mariani, University Professor of English, Boston College, author of God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable

“In the preface to her book True, False, None of the Above, Maddox describes the experience of literature–whether reading, teaching, or creating it–as a ‘confrontation with reality.’ And her poems indeed confront a range of uneasy truths, from adultery and natural disasters to tooth extraction and raising teens. Maddox builds on the shared imagination of writers and readers, richly and deftly, to deepen and challenge our spirits.” –Tania Runyan, author of Second Sky

“In some of these poems, Marjorie Maddox riffs on the poetry of other writers. Sometimes she sings like an angel, even about illness and death. She wields forms brilliantly, and she tells delicious stories about what goes on in her classroom. Everybody who relishes good poetry should buy this book. But if you’re a teacher–or if you’ve ever sat in a classroom anywhere–True, False, None of the Above will make you laugh out loud.” –Jeanne Murray Walker, Professor of English, University of Delaware, coeditor of Shadow & Light: Literature and the Life of Faith

“In poem after poem, Marjorie Maddox creates a rich environment in which the best teaching (and she is always a teacher) takes place in dialogue, even though conversations are not always neatly resolved. But she also consistently and convincingly points to what we need: ‘The real, the spiritual, the Real.’” –Jill Baumgaertner, author of What Cannot Be Fixed

 

Bio:

Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry—including True, False, None of the Above (Poeima Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award Medalist);  Wives’ Tales (Seven Kitchens Press); Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf & Stock); Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award); Weeknights at the Cathedral (WordTech); and Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize and runner-up for Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes)—and over 500 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. In 2017, Fomite Press published her story collection What She Was Saying, a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter and Eludia book awards.

In addition, Maddox is co-editor, with Jerry Wemple, of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press) and has four children’s books: A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry, Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems  (Boyds Mills Press), as well as A Man Named Branch: The True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment, and Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises (Schoolwide). She is the great grandniece of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson. For more information, please visit her web site at www.marjoriemaddox.com

 

Links:

Marjorie’s Official Website

What She Was Saying: Amazon

What She Was Saying: FomitePress

True, False, None of the Above: Amazon

Wives’ Tales: Seven Kitchens Press

Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems + Insider Exercises

A Man Named Branch: the True Story of Baseball’s Great Experiment: middle-grade biography

Poetic Lines: Marjorie Maddox – YouTube Video

 

 

 

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