Kristen-Paige Madonia, the winner of our inaugural Marianne Russo Scholarship, and a speaker during this year’s New Voices Seminar, has been selected by The Studios of Key West as their very first visiting literary artist. She’ll be staying in TSKW’s “Mango Tree House” for one month beginning in October, just in time for Fantasy Fest and, if she’s lucky, the tail end of the season for the mammoth mango trees on TSKW’s compound. I had a chance to talk with Kristen-Paige about her plans yesterday:
Arlo: What will you be working on during your residency at The Studios of Key West?
Kristen-Paige Madonia: I plan to work on my second novel. It’s about a sixteen-year old embarking on a cross-country trip from West Virginia to San Francisco. This trip is prompted by the discovery that she is pregnant, and by her on-going ambition to locate her paternal father, whom she has never met. My intention with this project is to give voice to a character exploring the transition between childhood and adulthood.
A: Didn’t you move from Virginia to the west coast? What role does your own life play in this novel?
KPM: Well, yes, I’ve made that cross-country trip too many times to count, but this novel isn’t only about the physical trip from one side of the US to the other, it’s also about the psychological journey of my character. It seems it is becoming more typical for people to move more frequently, whether it be an attempt at self-reinvention or a general anxiousness in society, so I’m trying to explore themes of rootlessness and restlessness in addition to the ever-changing definition of the “modern American family.”
I guess I would say that my first book is about grief and hope, and my
second book will be about restlessness and family roots, all things
that have impacted my own life.
A: The rootless and the
restless have had quite a history here, although living in Key West as
an artist today requires great dexterity, stubbornness, and luck. The
Studios of Key West seeks to maintain Key West as a place where artists
can thrive. Still, I wonder… Thomas Sanchez said “Any time you have
a writer’s colony, it is the end of something, not the beginning.” Can
you comment, in general, on the aesthetic implications of institutional
KPM: There will always be value in providing
undisturbed work space and time for an emerging artist. I would not be
able to self-sufficiently spend a month working in Key West without the
generous institutional support from TSKW. There is extreme value in
exploring locations outside of your comfort zone, and Key West, in
particular, encourages artistic growth. There are so many wonderful
writers that have worked there. Robert Stone, Hunter S. Thompson, Joy
Williams, Annie Dillard & Ann Beattie; classics like Judy Blume,
Ernest Hemingway & Tennessee Williams, of course. I love them all.
It’s incredible how many writers have thrived off the energy of that
little island! I’m really looking forward to exploring the literary
community in Key West– both the historical literary energy and the
current community that seems to be so dedicated to encouraging emerging
A: Will you be restlessly driving to Key West from across the country, or taking one of those ordinary airplanes?
It looks like I’ll be flying, though I did make the drive with a group
of friends in 2001. There’s nothing like that long stretch of road over
water leading you down to Key West…
For more about The Studios of Key West and their Artist-in-Residence program, go to www.tskw.org, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Cheap Red Meat,” which Madonia read from at the Seminar, was printed in Pearl #36. Back issues are available. You can also find her work online at Inkwell.