Episode 74—Madeleine Blais says Reality is Compelling Enough

Pulitzer Prize winner Madeleine Blais joined me on the podcast. Maddy is a dear friend and treasured mentor and it was so great to speak to her about her work and her new book “To the New Owners.”

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Madeleine Blais

“I always say mixed feelings equal material.”

“You’re only as great as your next story.”

“If you’re a feature writer or a person who does longform, you start to suspect a lot of depth in a lot of people.”

“I try to tell myself that nothing is ever wasted.”

“Reality was compelling enough.”

“I like the stories that make me feel like I’m going in the opposite direction of other people.”

Welcome back to another episode of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction to try and tease out the origins, habits, and routines so that you can apply their skills of mastery to your own work: narrative journalists, New York Times bestselling authors, award-winning filmmakers and, yes, even a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Today’s guest is an extra special one: Madeleine Blais, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while at the Miami Herald for her story “Zepp’s Last Stand.” I took her memoir class back in 2003 at UMass Amherst and we always managed to stay in touch over the years. She’s a friend and a treasured mentor to me, so I’m delighted to speak with her about her career and her latest book To the New Owners: A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir.

Maddy is also the author of Uphill Walkers: Portrait of a Family, In These Girls Hope is a Muscle, which was named one of Sports Illustrated’s 100 best sports books of the 20th century, and The Heart is an Instrument: Portraits in Journalism. Her piece that would eventually become the book for In These Girls, lead off in The Stories We Tell, an anthology showcasing the best women journalists (edited by Patsy Sims).

We talk about Maddy’s early career and a pivotal moment that pointed her toward feature writing vs. hard news, how she likes to cut against the grain when vetting stories, judging for the Pulitzer Prize, and many of the influential books that helped form her self-guided apprenticeship.

Books Mentioned

Manchild in the Promised Land
Stop Time
Duke of Deception
A Fan’s Notes
Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood
Home Before Dark
This Boy’s Life
A Moveable Feast