by Patrick Madden

Quotidiana (essays)

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming 2010.

A book comprised of ten of my essays. Here is what Michael Martone said of it (when he chose it as runner-up for the 2007 AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction):

Quotidiana puts the post in postmodern. It is not the next best thing but the best next thing, a truly creative creative nonfiction book. Patrick Madden has constructed a text ripe for the authorial reader’s arrangement of meaning. The collaged fragments, the fragmentary collage is the form that feels right for right now. Everything in the book is important, everything is thrown off, thrown away. Everything gleams like the center of some sun and, at the same time, collapses into the foil of the blackest of black holes. The book is a remarkable achievement of complex simplicity and an elegant confusion.

A Hint of Garlic

Portland Magazine forthcoming.

Notes on food and love.

Where Am I Now?

Water~Stone Review forthcoming.

Thoughts on originality inspired by a weekend trip to McDonald's during which a small girl played naked in the tubes.

The Path of Repemption

Irreantum forthcoming.

Because my friend Joe and I call our band "The Tords," I had to visit "Camino Los Tordos" in Montevideo, Uruguay. This is that story.

On Laughter

BYU Magazine Spring 2009: 48-53.

A different arrangement of vignettes from "Laughter," similar to "On Laughing," but not entirely.

Read this essay: HTML

Listen to me read this essay: MP3

The Infinite Suggestiveness of Common Things

Humanities at BYU Spring 2009: 8-13.

This is an essay on the essay, celebrating the quotidian. Its title comes from Alexander Smith's masterful "On the Writing of Essays," and I'm pleased as punch that one of my favorite essayists, Chris Arthur, independently used the same phrase as the title of his introductory essay in Words of the Grey Wind, because this is the introductory essay to my book.

Of Thumbthing

Fourth Genre 12.1 (Spring 2009): 133-135.

This essay, a twist on Montaigne's "Of Thumbs," is part of a roundtable discussion of writing contraints derived from a panel at the 2007 NonfictioNow conference at the University of Iowa. The panel also includes critical discussion and creative essays by Dinty W. Moore, Brenda Miller, Don Morrill, Sue William Silverman, and Nancy Canyon.

Of Eagles, Goats, and Space Men

The Normal School 1.1 (Fall 2008): 5.

A brief digression that began as an assignment I gave my students: to write about one of the most boring, everyday events they could think of. I chose "I went to sleep," and it spun outward from there.

The Normal School is a great new journal out of Cal St. Fresno. In only a short time, they've published some of the country's great writers. I'm tickled that my piece bats lead in the first ever issue. Thanks to Steven, Matt, and Sophie for the honor.

Read this essay: PDF


Brevity 28 (Fall 2008).

A vignette about tossing a football with my son and searching for a lost toddler in our neighborhood (we found him; he's OK).

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A Sudden Pull behind the Heart

The Best Creative Nonfiction. Ed. Lee Gutkind. New York: Norton, 2008. 169-172.

Another great honor to have my essay selected for this new anthology. Editor Lee Gutkind said of the first volume (2007): "Beneath the cover of The Best Creative Nonfiction is an unusual and unforgettable literary experience for readers, writers and bookstore browsers seeking a porthole into literature that makes a personal connection with the writer and captures real life with the power of cinema and the integrity of fact."

My great friend Desirae Matherly will be in this anthology as well, with her absolutely beautiful essay "Final: Comprehensive, Roughly." She and I both thank Dinty W. Moore, coordinating editor, for his nomination.

Panis Angelicus

Western Humanities Review 62.2 (Spring 2008): 66-76.

Thoughts on the hymn, my grandmother, my father, singing, Vietnam, the miracles leading to my birth, the perhaps unwitting sacramental sacrifice of a mother for her son.

This essay won honorable mention in the 2007 Utah Writers' Contest, prose division.


The Iowa Review 38.1 (Spring 2008): 116-148.

On very large or numerous things that are not quite infinite, but which are dizzyingly vast. Also on the promise of Abraham, thus sand, dust, stars, people, children, especially my own, and parents, especially my own. This is a 12,000-word monstrosity that I thought would never be published, yet here it is. Hallelujah!


Hotel Amerika 6.1 (Spring 2008): 76-86.

Meditations driven by words (unbidden, forgotten, confused, indecipherable words) toward ideas (though never the twain meet) through such marginalia as "The Witch of Agnesi," convergent and divergent infinite series, the Lovin' Spoonful, Zeno's dichotomy paradox, J. J. Thomson's discovery of electrons, quarks, Cavalieri's infinitesimals, "Guantanamera," the experiment of Psammetichus, and more!

"Asymptosy" was cited as a "Notable Essay" in the back of The Best American Essays 2009.

Divers Weights & Divers Measures

North Dakota Quarterly 75.1 (Winter 2008): 154-160.

This is my fourth published conglomeration of short nonfictional fragments. Note that the title is recycled (see below), but the content is new. This one begins and ends, as expected, invoking Eduardo Galeano, whose form inspired mine, and in the middle contains brief observations of Uruguay, including kids playing soccer, an abandoned cup and opened books through a window, a cellist practicing in an upstairs room, Karina lamenting her brother's death...

Read this piece: PDF

Divers Weights & Divers Measures

The Laurel Review 42.1 (Winter 2008) 51-60.

Take your pick, Barry White or Bad Company. Each "Can't Get Enough of Your Love." As for me, I can't get enough of this title. This is the third collection of "divers" nonfictional fragments I've published, and I'll likely keep it up until they stop me. This time, the focus is death and language (sometimes together!).

Read this piece: PDF

On Laughing

The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007. Ed. Philip Zaleski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007: 177-181.

'Tis a great honor to share space between the covers with so many fine writers, including Robert Bly, Madeline DeFrees, Gretel Ehrlich, Joseph Epstein, Adam Gopnik, Mary Gordon, Pico Iyer, Galway Kinnell, George Packer, Marilynne Robinson, Mark Strand, John Updike, Garry Wills, and Franz Wright (and others). This anthology collects the previous year's best spiritual essays and poems in "a volume that gracefully probes the role of faith in modern life while offering both spiritual insight and literary excellence."

A hearty embrace to Brian Doyle, who helped edit this essay into its short form, then published it in Portland Magazine.

A Breviary of Divagation

Quarter After Eight 14 (2007): 162-163.

To counterbalance my recent longwindedness in some essays, I've turned to aphorisms, inspired by contemporary writer James Richardson as well as Elias Canetti, E. M. Cioran, Antonio Porchia, and others of the past century.

Read these aphorisms: PDF

A Sudden Pull behind the Heart

Portland Magazine Fall 2007: 16-17.

Notes on an epiphany one afternoon in a silver city on a silver river.


The Chariton Review 30.1&2 (Fall 2007): 125-128.

How marijuana took away the bike trails that all the kids in my neighborhood helped build.

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Ego Vici Mundum

Quarterly West Spring 2007: 100-103.

Thoughts on dentistry, the name Adolf, human rights, disappeared children, and Joseph in Egypt.

Thoughts occasioned by my father-in-law, garlic, and Montevideo’s Mercado Modelo

Fourth Genre 9.1 (Spring 2007): 49-56.

I guess the title basically gives it away. I will mention that the "thoughts occasioned by" thing comes from Georg Lukacs's letter to Leo Popper called "On the Nature and Form of the Essay," where he writes that "the title of every essay is preceded in invisible letters, by [these] words." The list of things the essay is about comes most directly from W. G. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn, whose chapter "titles" are long lists of disparate things, like "Fishermen on the beach - The natural history of the herring - George Wyndham LeStrange - A great herd of swine - The reduplication of man - Orbis Tertius" etc.

I would note, too, that this issue of Fourth Genre includes an essay by my friend Desirae Matherly called "Final: Comprehensive, Roughly," which is achingly beautiful, perfectly measured, finely wrought. Read it before you read anything else in the issue.

The Great Escape

Northwest Review 45.1 (Winter 2007): 6-25.

This is a historical/biographical essay about Arturo Dubra, who helped dig the tunnel out of Punta Carretas prison in Montevideo, Uruguay, and escaped with 110 other men, mostly Tupamaro revolutionaries, on September 6th, 1971. The escape has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

I was pleasantly surprised to find my name on the front cover of the journal (in the "Plus" section: "Patrick Madden With the Revolution in Uruguay"), my essay's title used on the spine (in the plural: "Great Escapes," one assumes to characterize several of the pieces), and my essay batting lead-off inside the journal. All very nice.

"The Great Escape" was cited as a "Notable Essay" in the back of The Best American Essays 2008.

Read this essay: PDF

On Laughing

Portland Magazine Fall 2006: 16-17.

Continuing a long tradition of essays about laughter (see Max Beerbohm, Henri Bergson, Alice Meynell, Joseph Addison, and others, I'm sure), I wrote my own considerations, spurred by my daughter's first laughs, continued by my family's and others' experiences in the genre of laughing.

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Ybar Rossimo: Man of Legend

Eureka Literary Magazine 15.1 (Fall 2006): 4-7.

This one is about a man I met in Uruguay when I was a missionary: how he fit very neatly into some pre-existing missionary legends, how he fell out of them, and how I lost track of him.

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Port Market, New Year’s Eve

Under the Sun 11.1 (Summer 2006): 249-256.

I met a Japanese tourist near the port in Montevideo, then we dodged water balloons and watched confettied calendars falling from tall buildings, then we took a bus to the Legislative Palace, then we split. (With special guests: Paul Theroux, Che Guevara, Jon Bon Jovi.)

Heidemarie Z. Weidner, Under the Sun's editor, wrote in the introduction to the journal that this issue "encourages us to accompany each other on a kind of journey," noting several examples, then, "Finally, Patrick Madden guides us through the port market in Montevideo, Uruguay. We sit with the people 'smilingly talking in groups at tables and at bars' as they are 'leaning their eyes out of the sun beams shouting in from above.' The author's dealings with a travel companion of the hour, a Japanese version of 'It's Tuesday, so we must be in Belgium,' allow us to ponder how best to travel—alone or with others, 'staying longer' in one place or collecting as many sights in as few days as possible."

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The Laurel Review 39.2 (Summer 2005): 69-75.

On our 6th wedding anniversary, our children fell ill with hepatitis A. Soon thereafter the dog died (of unrelated causes).

Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine and a four-time Best American Essays honoree, once said of this essay, "The last two pages are perfectly pitched—you slide into the story of the dog and then out of the essay in the rain and it's just right. Very well made, that ending."

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Carnaval, Montevideo

River Teeth 6.1 (Fall 2004): 115-123.

When I got caught taking pictures of an arrest at a Carnaval parade, my imagination had some fun at my expense.

This essay is available in some academic databases (ProQuest, Project Muse), where it has been given the keywords "police brutality" and "nostalgia." I think that's kind of funny.

Read this essay: PDF

Divers Weights & Divers Measures

Post Road 6 (Spring 2003): 133-135.

This is another collection of related fragments, this time with the unifying theme of epiphany.

This piece shares a title with pieces in Water~Stone (see below), North Dakota Quarterly, and The Laurel Review (above), but they are totally different on the inside, where it counts.

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North Dakota Quarterly 69.1 (Winter 2002): 49-62.

This is one of my early attempts at a thematic contemporary essay. I try to mix stories and meditations and researches into some kind of spatial whole.

Divers Weights & Divers Measures

Water~Stone 5.1 (Fall 2002): 95-108.

This is a collection of disparate fragments, in the style and under the influence of Eduardo Galeano, hoping to mean something together.

You will notice that this piece shares a title with pieces in Post Road, North Dakota Quarterly, and The Laurel Review (see above), but they are all totally different (except for the title; also, I reuse several words such as articles (a, an, the) and conjunctions (and, but, or) and maybe a few prepositions (of, on, in, underneath).

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Galpones, Gallinas, Garrafas

Under the Sun 7.1 (Summer 2002): 240-246.

This is a crossover essay; it's about Uruguay, but it's also fragmentary and somewhat thematic. The best thing about it is that the words in the title are in alphabetical order in Spanish (whose alphabet lists ll as its own letter apart from and after l).

Under the Sun has included this essay on their web site in PDF format. Their PDF file is cleaner than mine (below), but it's one printed page per PDF page, whereas mine is two printed pages per. Also, theirs doesn't have italics where they should be (I don't know why), which might make reading slightly more difficult.

This essay was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, which gathers "the best of the small presses" in an annual anthology, but it did not win a prize.

Read this essay: PDF

Gravity & Distance

Mississippi Review 8.2 (Spring 2002)

In some ways, this is a major revision of an essay I wrote about my son's skull operation, which he underwent at two months. It's also one of my first attempts at a fragmentary essay, and it tries to deal with questions of faith and science and theory and practice, which, it sometimes seems, come up a lot in my writing.

Leilani Hall, who edited this issue of Mississippi Review, wrote: "Coming from a background in science, Pat Madden navigates faith and the metaphysical in suffering at home and abroad. He speaks with a yearning insistence to understand what remains in the absence of formula."

Brian Doyle wrote: "Whew—that's excellent. Haunting. My favorite line in it is the flat 'he died anyway,' just sitting there alone prickly defiant cold. A very interesting layered braided piece of work. I admire it."

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We Lost Gonzalo

The Evansville Review 12 (2002): 89-97.

This is about my friend Gonzalo Glattli's death. But more than that (you can see it coming but I don't care), it's about his life, or a small part of it that intersected with mine.

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I Saw a Mountain

Crab Orchard Review 6.2 (Spring/Summer 2001): 161-169.

The essay that most made me want to be an essayist is Ian Frazier's "Take the F," which I found in Best American Essays 1996. That essay is a wander through Brooklyn. This essay is a wander through Montevideo.

In this essay I misuse the word strand where I should use stand as in "a stand of trees." My error was confirmed by a recent Rush song, which goes to show: one should always use a dictionary and/or listen intently to Rush.

Brian Doyle wrote: "Liked your Monte vidi eu essay very much ... sharp eye, gentle humor, the listing of colorful detail, the sensuality of it. I feel and taste and hear it. Lovely."

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In My Life

The Mochila Review 2 (Spring 2001): 99-105.

The title is from The Beatles, as is the sentiment. This is a fragmentary essay from before I started reading fragmentary essays or knew much about them. And it's about my wife.

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The Week of the Beer

The Chattahoochee Review 21.2 (Winter 2001): 114-119.

This is not about beer; it's about fast friendships and the mystery of love and longing.

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Congratulations on Mandela!

The Journal of African Travel-Writing 8/9 (2001): 120-127.

One of my best friends I met when we were stuck together as missionary companions in Durazno, Uruguay. This is the story of Elder Kalu the Nigerian and our adventures together knocking on doors soon after Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa and during the 1994 World Cup, which included both Nigeria and the United States but not Uruguay.

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Creeping Grass

Confluence 12 (2001): 21-24.

This is a lesson I learned about a strangely animated weed, North American smugness, and folk wisdom.


New Delta Review 18.1 (Fall/Winter 2000): 25-32.

Working with lots of missionaries, rescuing abandoned puppies, eating pizza and brownies with Evangelistas on Mothers' Day: what more could you want?

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We Were Born to Be Loved

Windhover 5 (Fall/Winter 2000): 16-26.

This is about King's X bassist/singer Doug Pinnick's homosexuality and his fans' reactions to the news.

Down on Batlle’s Farm

Dialogue 33.2 (Summer 2000): 157-166.

Taking a group of very poor kids to Church ends up not being such a great experience for anybody involved. This is about culture and religion and wealth and class and theory and practice.

This essay got third place in the 1999 Elsie C. Carroll Informal Essay Contest. In it, I used a made-up word, frunced, a past-tense verb which I created from the Spanish fruncir, which means something like to frown (but it takes a direct object). The astute editors at Dialogue, however, corrected my word to the somewhat archaic but legitimate English word frounced. Hooray.

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The Bidet Towel

Sphere 44 (2000): 64-65.

A bidet, a towel, and my face (also, Bob Seger).

Luis Silva

BYU Studies 38.3 (Fall 1999): 83-87.

This is the first real essay I ever wrote. I wanted to express poverty without ever using the words poverty or poor, and I wanted to describe this place down to the buzzing of the flies, the dust dancing in the sunlight through a window. It's about Luis Silva, who died of cancer shortly after he was baptized into the Mormon Church.

This essay won first place in the 1998 BYU Studies personal essay contest.

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The Most Correct of Any Book

Rough Draft 21.2 (Summer 1999): 22-23.

Mormons know that this refers to the Book of Mormon. I know (now) that it's not a good idea to bash people over the head with it.

This essay contains the adjective canous, which I made up from the Spanish canoso, which means "salt-and-pepper haired" or "graying." In any case, my first published neologism.

Congratulations on Mandela

Inscape 19.2 (Spring 1999): 55-65.

An early version of the essay later published in the Journal of African Travel Writing (with an exclamation point in the title; see above), this one includes my poor attempts at writing out Elder Kalu's Nigerian accent.

How President Sana Split Maroñas

The Daily Universe 8 October 1998: 15.

He was sort of Grinchy, but I admired the no-nonsense leadership of this guy, so I wrote an essay about him.

This essay won the 1998 George H. Brimhall Founders Day Essay Contest, whose theme was "On the wheels of a dream." I chose to completely ignore the theme, which I considered unfortunately cheesy, and I won $750 for my efforts. While this turn of events may have damaged my humility, it did give me some good confidence with which to face the seemingly endless rejection letters that were soon to come. And it's still the most money I've ever made writing.

East of the River of Birds

Inscape 18.2 (Spring 1998): 55-64.

This includes four shorter pieces ("I'll See If I Can Make It," "Gimme the Goats," "The Willow-Tree Gang," and "The Bidet Towel"). I had mistranslated the name Uruguay from Guaraní (along with countless Uruguayans), thus birds instead of the probably more correct snails.