Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Q&A with Madison Davis




Madison Davis is the author of the new book The Loved Ones: Essays to Bury the Dead. She also has written the book Disaster. She is an associate editor at New Harbinger Publications, and she's based in Oakland, California.


Q: You’ve said that The Loved Ones was inspired by your own life and family history. Can you say more about why you decided to write the book?


A: Writing The Loved Ones never quite felt like a decision. It began as many discrete threads—various pieces started and stopped and started again—over the years. Eventually, I was trying to heal and understand the experiences I’d had in my teens and early 20s, and the many projects became one.


In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, in the following days and weeks, you wake up and the world is somehow still spinning as normal. It’s baffling.


You go to the grocery store, and everyone is going about their lives oblivious to the fact that you are now living in a different reality. It’s a very destabilizing and lonely feeling. You want to shake people and tell them that everything has changed! At least, this was my reaction. I imagine many people who have lost someone close to them may recognize the feeling.


At its core, I think this book is an attempt to feel less alone in the grief. It’s a way to reach out and explain, step by step, what happened and how my reality has changed.

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


A: “The loved ones” describes both those who have been lost and those who are left behind. The loved ones of the deceased request donations in lieu of flowers. Deepest sympathy for the loss of your loved one.


The loved ones are a special group of close mourners expected be most impacted by a loss. My loved ones are the family members I have lost. I like that duality. Wrapped up in the choice is also a simple need to make sure it is conveyed that these people were deeply loved.

Q: You’ve also said, “The book is unstable in that it’s always searching for something to hold onto that is certain but not quite reaching it. It allows questions to go unanswered and asks the reader to sit in the discomfort of that lack of closure.” What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I think collectively we are confounded and terrified by grief. We want it to be presented in a recognizable form. We desperately want it to follow a formula so the process can be completed and neatly tucked away.


There are some fascinating and truly on-the-nose examples of this in true crime content. Detectives or witnesses who are sure of a person’s guilt or innocence because of the way they respond to death. We want to believe that we know what it should look like. We want to believe it’s a simple, natural condition that dissipates.


But in truth, it comes with infinite presentations. Meaning is elusive. Answers are hard to come by. Grief is so human and yet we struggle to recognize its complexity because it’s just too painful to examine it.


I didn’t want my book to offer false closure. I didn’t want it to perform grief but rather to let it exist as just one example of how one person experienced it. I hope readers find an expansive quality in the lack of tidy conclusions. I think there can be a lot of meaning in just exploring grief with honesty.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write The Loved Ones?


A: The process of writing the book allowed me to walk through the most painful details again and again until they became something more than my experience. I was able to shape the narrative, explain how foundational these experiences are to the person I became, and form connections between events that were significant to me personally and larger social questions about life and death and control. Writing this book helped me make sense of myself and my history.


It’s been tremendously positive to finish this book and let it go into the world. It’s a tribute to the people I’ve lost and to what those loses shaped me into, but time keeps coming and I keep changing. Already, it’s an outdated reflection of me, which is very powerful. It marks progress and transformation.


After having settled my need to explore grief from this particular angle, I now feel free to work on other projects in a way I simply couldn’t before. Ultimately, I needed to find some productive value in tragedy and that piece comes from letting the book go out into the world so people can engage with it.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve started work on my first novel! It’s a new genre for me, and I’m absolutely loving the process of exploring it. The new book will still revolve around themes of death and grief but will tackle them in a different way. 


My background is in poetry so long-form fiction presents all kinds of new challenges to my writing practice, but I’m finding a great sense of freedom and adventure in the new format!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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