Authors: David Madden

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, critic, and editor

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Beautiful Greed, 1961

Cassandra Singing, 1969

Brothers in Confidence, 1972

Bijou, 1974

The Suicide’s Wife, 1978

Pleasure-Dome, 1979

On the Big Wind, 1980

Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War, 1996

Short Fiction:

The Shadow Knows, 1970

The New Orleans of Possibilities, 1982


Cassandra Singing, pr. 1955

From Rome to Damascus, pr. 1959

Casina, pr. 1960

Fugitive Masks, pr. 1966

The Day the Flowers Came, pr. 1975

Three Mean Fairy Tales, pr. 1979


Wright Morris, 1964

The Poetic Image in Six Genres, 1969

James M. Cain, 1970

Harlequin’s Stick, Charlie’s Cane, 1975

A Primer of the Novel: For Readers and Writers, 1980

Writer’s Revisions, 1980 (with Richard Powers)

Cain’s Craft, 1985

The Works of Carson McCullers, 1988

Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers, 1988

Fiction Tutor, 1991

Edited Texts:

Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, 1968

Proletarian Writers of the Thirties, 1968

American Dreams, American Nightmares, 1970

Rediscoveries: Informal Essays in Which Well-Known Novelists Rediscover Neglected Works of Fiction by One of Their Favorite Authors, 1971

The Popular Cultural Explosion: Experiencing Mass Media, 1972 (with Ray B. Browne)

Nathanael West: The Cheaters and the Cheated, 1973

Remembering James Agee, 1974

Creative Choices: A Spectrum of Quality and Technique in Fiction, 1975

Studies in the Short Story, 1975 (with Virgil Scott)

Rediscoveries II, 1988 (with Peggy Bach)

Classics of Civil War Fiction, 1988 (with Bach)

Eight Classic American Novels, 1989

The World of Fiction, 1989

A Pocketful of Prose: Contemporary Short Fiction, 1991

A Pocketful of Prose: Vintage Short Fiction, 1992

Critical Essays on Thomas Berger, 1995

A Pocketful of Poems: Vintage Verse, 1996

A Pocketful of Plays: Vintage Drama, 1996

Beyond the Battlefield: The Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Times of the Civil War Soldier, 2000

The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren, 2000

A Pocketful of Essays, 2001 (2 volumes)


Jerry David Madden is one of the most diverse and prolific of American writers. His many works range from literary criticism to the short story, drama, poetry, and, most important, the novel. In addition to his creative writing and scholarship, he has edited books and journals and taught both creative writing and literature at colleges and universities.{$I[AN]9810001057}{$I[A]Madden, David}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Madden, David}{$I[tim]1933;Madden, David}

Madden, the son of James and Emily Madden, had a typical middle-class upbringing and attended public schools. His imagination was profoundly influenced by his grandmother’s storytelling, the many films he viewed while working as an usher at the local theater, and the great radio plays of the 1930’s and 1940’s. So fascinated was he with the dramatic power of the written and spoken word that he was telling stories by the age of three and writing them by the age of eleven. After graduating from Knoxville High School in 1951, Madden entered the University of Tennessee. His academic progress was slow, however, because of sporadic travels around the country that fed his yearning for a firsthand view of life. In 1953, these journeys culminated with his working in the merchant marine and finally joining the U.S. Army, where he remained until 1955.

Upon his release from service, Madden entered the Iowa State Teachers’ College, where he continued to work on both the novel and the play Cassandra Singing. He married Roberta Margaret Young in 1956 and returned to the University of Tennessee, where he completed his B.S. degree in education in 1957. From there, he moved to San Francisco State University, where he studied with novelist Walter Van Tilburg Clark, earning his M.A. in creative writing there in 1958.

In the 1960’s, Madden was on the faculties of a number of colleges and universities, including Center College in Danville, Kentucky (1960 to 1962); the University of Louisville (1962 to 1964); Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he was the assistant editor of The Kenyon Review (1964 to 1966); Ohio University in Athens (1966 and 1968); and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1967). In 1968, he became writer-in-residence at Louisiana State University, which became his academic home.

Madden’s master’s thesis became his first published novel, The Beautiful Greed. In a style that is simple, direct, and vivid, the book details a somewhat autobiographical story based upon his experiences in New York City and the merchant marine. The protagonist, Alvin Henderlight, following the example set by Madden himself, has quit school to look for some sort of meaning in a meaningless existence. He joins the merchant marine, where adventures themselves seem to justify life. It is through Alvin’s quest for purpose and direction in the chaos of real life that Madden is able to explore basic existential themes dealing with humanity’s ability to forge, with action and art, meaning on an absurd landscape.

This existential vision is not only an outgrowth of Madden’s own southern heritage and his familiarity with the works of such key southern writers as Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner but also a product of his reading of works by Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, and James Joyce. Indeed, Madden has published critical discussions of such moderns as Albert Camus, James Agee, Wright Morris, Nathanael West, James Cain, and Carson McCullers, as well as contemporary writers such as George Garrett and Barry Hannah.

The 1969 novel Cassandra Singing is set in the coal-mining region of Kentucky and centers on the close relationship between a brother, who represents force and action, and his bedridden, imaginative sister, who represents the life of language and contemplation. For Madden, the characters personify dangerous extremes in a world where a balance between energy and intellect is vital. Events that separate the siblings force them to face the existential necessity of making choices.

Madden’s ability to infuse his characters with liveliness, lyrical passion, and truthfulness is also apparent in Bijou. The protagonist is Lucius Hutchfield, a thirteen-year-old usher at the Bijou Theatre in Cherokee, Tennessee. Lucius spends his time enthralled with the giant images and sounds in the motion-picture house. The story recounts how the boy fantasizes about the plots of the films, replaying them in his mind and applying them to his own life. The book concerns the growth of an artistic imagination as it confronts the tension between the worlds of fiction and fact.

Madden’s nostalgia for his past continues in Pleasure-Dome, the sequel to Bijou, wherein Lucius, following his own nostalgic yearnings and his intense desire to be a storyteller, has traveled to North Carolina to learn more about the origin of Jesse James. As an artist seeking the raw details for his tale, Lucius is willing to go to great lengths to exploit Zara Jane Ransom, an elderly woman who knew and loved James. Sharpshooter is a fictional memoir of a Civil War soldier, thirteen-year-old Willis Carr. It was highly acclaimed by critics and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The artist’s need to create, thus finding some purpose in a world which seems to have none, is the theme of many of Madden’s short stories, such as “The Last Bizarre Tale,” which appeared in the collection That’s What I Like About the South, edited by George Garrett and Paul Ruffin (1993). It is also a preoccupation in his criticism, as seen in his essay “Art for the Reader’s Sake” (1991). Madden’s interest in the process of writing has led him to write or coauthor such works as the popular A Primer of the Novel: For Readers and Writers, Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers, and the useful annotated bibliography Writer’s Revisions. He has also edited Rediscoveries and Rediscoveries II (the latter with Peggy Bach), in which American writers talk about neglected works of fiction which interested and influenced them.

Whether as critic, scholar, and teacher, or as playwright, poet, and fiction writer, David Madden always exhibits his reverence for his craft. In “Art for the Reader’s Sake,” after deploring the fact that most teachers in his discipline seem to use literature only to promote their own social agendas, Madden emphasizes the value of the aesthetic experience. Like Joseph Conrad, Madden has based his life on the conviction that art is a way to make others see for themselves.

BibliographyBach, Peggy. “The Theatrical Image.” The Southern Quarterly 33 (Winter/Spring, 1995): 215-226. In this article, Madden offers his views on the adaptation of works of southern novelists to the stage and screen.Madden, David. Interview by Ruth Laney. Southern Review 11 (Winter, 1975): 167-180. This lengthy discussion with Madden during the second decade of his literary career explains much about his sources of inspiration, particularly his debt to folk tradition and popular culture.Madden, David. “Let Me Tell You the Story: Transforming Oral Tradition.” Appalachian Journal 7 (1980): 210-229. Madden describes the influence of the southern tradition of storytelling on his own developing imagination during his childhood years and explains how oral anecdotes develop into the written works of a conscious artist.Madden, David. “True Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics.” Introduction to American Dreams, American Nightmares, edited by Madden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. Madden explains his analysis of American literature, which like American life he sees as strongly influenced by the ideal called the “American Dream.” The ideas expressed in this critical work are evident in Madden’s own fiction.Morrow, Mark. “David Madden.” In Images of the Southern Writer. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Morrow’s one-page report of his visit with Madden at his Baton Rouge home includes Madden’s own comments on the influences which shaped his work, both events in his life and his historical and literary heroes.Pinsker, Sanford. “The Mixed Chords of David Madden’s Cassandra Singing.” Critique 15 (1973): 15-26. In this interesting essay, Pinsker deals with the common perception of Madden as a brilliant writer who is, however, too undisciplined to produce the effects of which he is capable.Richards, Jeffrey. “David Madden.” In Contemporary Poets, Dramatists, Essayists, and Novelists of the South. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. In this profile of Madden, Richards examines the recurring themes of the author and notes that his diversity has not always served him well in being accepted as a serious writer of fiction.Schott, Webster. “Stories Within Stories.” The Washington Post Book World, January 6, 1980, 9. Schott finds that Pleasure-Dome suffers from Madden’s preoccupation with the subject of his own craft, which causes him to digress, seemingly to admire his own art. Despite the work’s defects in plotting, Schott finds it intellectually stimulating.
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