Jan 032018
David Madden in the Pleasure Dome

(Photo: Paul Clark)

For me, the unimagined life is not worth living.  “The Beautiful Greed,” my first novel, based on my two years as a merchant seaman, came out in 1961 when I was living in Boone, teaching at Appalachian State. For the past eight years, I have been living a life of creativity in Black Mountain.

“Marble Goddesses and Mortal Flesh,” my 15th work of fiction, came out this fall.

In November 2009, my wife Robbie and I moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Black Mountain to be near our son, Blake, a professional photographer, and our grandchild, Kuniko Nicole, a student at the Asheville School.

In making that decision, the charm of Black Mountain itself, as we knew it from several visits, was also an incentive.

Pam Hester, our local Realtor, was certainly right when she assured us that we would love the little ivory-colored house, now more than a century old, in the first block of Church Street. “These have been,” we often say, “the happiest years of our lives.”

The huge L&N railroad desk on which I have written more than 60 books while teaching at Centre College, University of Louisville, Kenyon College, Ohio University, and 41 years as writer-in-residence at LSU fits perfectly in my cozy study, where I have written eight books.

Out of her study on the opposite side of the house, Robbie spends each day storming North Carolina in her efforts to promote racial justice and to pass the Equal Rights Amendment at long last.

Started 10 years before in Baton Rouge, “London Bridge in Plague and Fire,” my magnum opus, was the first novel I thrashed out on my huge desk in Black Mountain. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 7:14 am
Mar 282016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Yale alumi donated free books to every student at an elementary school on Monday.

Novelist Elizabeth Kostava helped students at Hall Fletcher Elementary School pick out three books they could keep.

She and novelist David Madden are two writers who wanted to help students develop a love for reading.

The Yale alums visited library book sales throughout the region and bought books to give to the students at Hall Fletcher… Read more and watch the related video.

 Posted by at 1:17 pm
Dec 132015

 By David Madden

In 1992, Congress passed a resolution supporting the creation of the United States Civil War Center at Louisiana State University, the mission of which was to study the war from the perspective of every conceivable academic discipline, profession, occupation, ethnic group, and women and children, and to facilitate the planning of the sesquicentennial of the war. In 1996, fifteen years before the sesquicentennial began, I testified as founding director of the Center in support of the creation of a national Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission patterned after the Centennial Commission. The Congress failed to act, LSU incrementally dismantled the U. S. Civil War Center, and the sesquicentennial ended in 2015 after four years of lackluster, unimaginative commemoration.

One of the most innovative books on the Civil War, Look to the Earth: Historical Archeology and the American Civil War, edited by Clarence Geier and Susan Winter, appeared in 1996 from the University of Tennessee Press. The Center helped develop and facilitated the publication at that press of a unique book, Ninety-eight Days: A Geographer’s View of the Vicksburg Campaign, by Warren Graybau, and two unusual books on the neglected work of engineers for the Confederacy and for the Union.

Now the University of South Carolina Press has the distinction of publishing one of the few innovative books of the sesquicentennial years, The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War, edited by David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis. This collection of thirteen solicited, previously unpublished essays by older well-established and young historians is also a major contribution to the relatively new and innovative Atlantic Studies discipline, and the first to examine the Civil War.

Continue reading review published in The Key Reporter (Phi Beta Kappa’s Publication for News and Alumni Relations).

 Posted by at 6:39 am
Dec 122015

 By David Madden

While serving four years on an escort carrier, William Goyen began House of Breath, probably the most lyrical passages ever written on an aircraft carrier.

Oh, but he did, as this comment on his first and finest novel, House of Breath, attests. “There are long passages of the best writing, the fullest and richest and most expressive that I have read in a very long time,” wrote Katherine Anne Porter, preeminent Texas short story writer, who passionately loved and pursued not only the writing but the man himself–Goyen’s longest heterosexual love affair, and, for literary history, most important.

Continue reading review published in The Key Reporter (Phi Beta Kappa’s Publication for News and Alumni Relations).

 Posted by at 7:25 am
Apr 282015

originally published April 27, 2015  Opinionator, New York Times

As John Wilkes Booth stepped into President Lincoln’s booth at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865, Union prisoners of war were heading home on foot and by rail, free from Andersonville, Cahaba and other prisons. Several thousand men had been brought to a transit camp at Vicksburg, Miss., where they awaited transport along the Mississippi River.

Eleven days later, 2,100 of those soldiers, many sick, many barefoot, boarded the wooden side-wheeler steamboat Sultana. The ship was built to carry 375 passengers; that day it steamed north with 2,427, including civilian men, women and children along with the soldiers.

At 2 a.m., when the ship was just seven miles upriver from Memphis, three of its four boilers exploded. Nearly 1,800 people, mostly Union soldiers, died in what remains the worst maritime disaster in American history – worse, even, than the Titanic – and one of the largest military losses of life in a single day.

Those who were not killed outright by the explosion died in the crush to abandon the ship, or drowned in the river below. The water was still chilly with winter runoff, and many of those who made it into the water died of hypothermia. One survivor, Daniel Allen, testified in 1892:

I pressed toward the bow, passing many wounded sufferers, who piteously begged to be thrown overboard. I saw men, while attempting to escape, pitch down through the hatchway that was full of blue curling flames, or rush wildly from the vessel to death and destruction in the turbid waters below. I clambered upon the hurricane deck and with calmness and self-possession assisted others to escape.”

Many of those who did survive were horribly burned. About 700 made it to a hospital in Memphis, where 200 died of their injuries.

The country was caught up in the celebration over the war’s end and the mourning over Lincoln, and while the disaster made the front pages, it quickly fell from the public’s mind. Hearings were conducted, but few were punished. Only one officer, a captain who had ordered the men onto the overcrowded boat, was found guilty, but his verdict was overturned.

The Sultana docked at Helena, Ark., just before it sank on April 27, 1865.Credit Library of Congress

The Sultana itself was lost, and discovered only in 1982, when archaeologists uncovered fragments 30 feet below a soybean field along the banks of the Mississippi – the river having shifted course over the ensuing century. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:37 am
Dec 112014

originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel (Nov 30, 2014)

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln, and on Nov. 19 we marked the 151st anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, I am mindful of the many ways Americans have always missed the war.
In the several decades after the war, men, women and children saw more and more of the artists’ and finally the photographers’ scenes, and read the memoirs of the generals and officers, and heard the memorial speeches, and perhaps read the 128 volumes of “The Official Records of Union and Confederates Armies.”
Americans stored them up, mulled them over, and then began the long forgetting, made more painful in the South by the punitive Reconstruction that Lincoln had planned to avoid. And still, each and all missed the war, because it all sifts down finally to little more than fragments found on the field.
Then over the years, into the next century, into the hands of Americans came more and more of the common man’s accounts, views from the battlefields, the hospitals, the prisons. And more and more came the perspectives from the home front, the refugee’s, the widow’s, the spy’s, the mother’s, the nurse’s perspectives.
And still, pervading all those testimonials is that nagging apprehensiveness that drove Lincoln to the telegraph office, feeling that he was missing the war.
But what of the historians and the biographers, trailing along behind, collecting, arranging, filling in background? The fragments have insisted on remaining fragments. With so much missing, the whole, the vision of the whole, has remained unachieved.
Americans missed the war that most shaped America’s destiny by remaining mesmerized by the fragments they picked up, isolated handfuls of facts about battles and leaders mostly. The public, from generation to generation, remained obsessed with the role of ancestors or with the look of artifacts, those literal fragments — swords, guns, bullets, uniforms, flags — found on the field.
In the two hours he wandered the battlefield that morning in Gettysburg, Lincoln witnessed scavengers thrilled to pick up, possess and count the value of fragments.
Americans have been immersed in seemingly endless talk, an endless stream of books, endless novels and poems that repeat and repeat and repeat the same things, as if damned to seek knowledge, understanding and perhaps even the vision in the self-same icons, tokens, runes and ruins.
The painful paradox is that both the men who fought and all people who have read about the battles missed the war. For the war is not only the details of battles such as Gettysburg and the simultaneous battle of Vicksburg, but a deeper exploration of the meaning of the whole war that would reveal itself in each individual American from the day of Lincoln’s address to this very day.
Americans have failed to make the nature of this war and its lessons part of their everyday lives as they deal with America’s problems. Let our vision henceforth be not to celebrate the war as an interesting time in history but to meditate on the war as a motive and prelude to action.
Let us look at the war through every conceivable perspective. Implore nurses, lawyers, physicians, journalists, dentists, teachers, merchants, laborers of every type, scientists of every type, engineers, geographers, secretaries, politicians, architects, women, ethnic groups to look at the war from their points of view and meditate on, talk about and publish their visions.
“The great task remaining before us” — to use Lincoln’s words — is to achieve at long last an understanding of the war commensurate with its lasting effects: the dark problems and bright prospects for America that came out of the war. Let us examine all aspects of the war in such a way as to pursue solutions to the problems that remain with us today — violence, racism and mistrust of government.
David Madden, a novelist and Civil War historian, is a native of Knoxville who lives in Black Mountain, N.C.

 Posted by at 6:20 am
Nov 202014

The Last Bizarre Tale, a new collection by Knoxville native David Madden, serves the dual purpose of introducing its prolific author to new readers and offering a summa to his long, impressive career. Sixty years of sustained productivity merits our respect, and the fact that so many of the tales carry the unmistakable sheen of a well-made story provokes admiration. The book demonstrates the protean nature of Madden’s gifts: his tales run the gamut of literary styles and genres, each entry marked with the stamp of its author’s ingenuity…  [Read more at Chapter 16]

 Posted by at 6:38 am