Friday, March 15, 2024

Q&A with Maddie Norris


Photo by Derick Decario Ladale Whitson



Maddie Norris is the author of the new book The Wet Wound: An Elegy in Essays. She is the Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she lives in Durham, North Carolina.


Q: How was your book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I am notoriously bad at titles, but thankfully I had help. Ander Monson suggested The Wet Wound after reading the manuscript, and I supplemented with the subtitle An Elegy in Essays.


The wet wound is the central metaphor that runs through the book. My dad was a doctor, and after his death, I went through his medical lectures and slides, and I learned that the best way to care for wounds, contrary to popular belief, is to keep them open and wet. I mean this literally and metaphorically.


The subtitle is also important and prepares readers for what type of book they’ll encounter. It’s an elegy mourning my dad, but it’s not a memoir, unlike many other grief books. I wanted readers to know they would be getting a linked collection of essays that examine grief, not just my life.


Q: As you said, the essays in your book were inspired by your father’s death--can you talk about your relationship with him?


A: I had what Tolstoy might call a fairly boring relationship with my dad. We were happy. We loved and cared and supported each other. We watched soccer games and baked brownies and listened to Talking Heads. He helped me with my math homework and I helped him set up his voicemail and our family ate dinner together every school night.


I still love my dad, of course I do, but I now love him through grief. My grief connects me to him. It’s what I have left.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the essays in the book?


A: In many ways this book started the year my dad died. I began writing about it almost immediately because that’s how I make sense of the world. A year later, I went to college on a writing scholarship and wrote while there. Those essays got me to grad school, where I wrote the bulk of the book as it is today.


My thinking progressed and deepened over those initial years, and that time was essential to my writing, but the specific words that now inhabit the book didn’t materialize until I was in grad school.


Q: The writer Ander Monson called the book “One of the most intense and revolutionary books I’ve read in the way it approaches grief.” What do you think of that description?


A: Ander is one of the most inventive and boundary-pushing writers of our time, so it’s an honor to have him read the book so carefully and deeply and see its value.


It’s not an easy book; it asks readers to look directly into the wound, and that’s painful. But that looking is essential to what I’m saying, which is that through this wound, we find love.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I wanted to challenge myself to work on a more outward looking project since this one was so internal, so I’m working on a collection of essays that asks: if women are objectified, why not turn ourselves into weapons against that which objectifies us?


Each essay takes a word that could be a noun or verb (i.e. sleep, scream) and considers how to use them to subvert the hierarchical structures that bind us into nouns so that we might find agency in verbs.


It tackles large ideas, but by viewing them through specific nouns/verbs, the theoretical becomes not just accessible but material, and thus, alterable.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Shortly after my dad died, I read Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. People told me it was “intense” and “hard,” but it only ever made me feel held. I hope my book does that for others.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment