There are three things you especially need to know about Kerry Madden: She is an accomplished children’s book author, she has moved around frequently in her life, and she is not John Madden’s daughter.

The UAB Writers’ Series will present Kerry Madden at 4 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Mary Culp Hulsey Recital Hall.
Well, except for that one time. But more on that later.

Madden, who joined the UAB Department of English this summer as assistant professor of creative writing and the new editor of the award-winning literary magazine PoemMemoireStory (PMS), has been confused for the daughter of legendary football coach and television announcer John Madden many, many times. So many times, in fact, she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times almost three years ago to make her announcement to the world that she is the daughter of a former football coach, just not that football coach.

“My father coached with Johnny Majors at Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee and for several years in the NFL,” she says. “I’m very proud of my dad and what he accomplished, which was why I wrote the ‘I-am-not-John-Madden’s-daughter’ article. But I was a reluctant football daughter.”

Football was so far from her mind in her youth Madden made her brothers, sister and the family dog act out stories like Anne Frank, OLIVER! or Little House on the Prairie when she watched them.

But her reluctance always was at its height on moving day — all 10 of them. That’s how many she experienced growing up in the home of an assistant football coach.

“The way we moved was with my dad saying, ‘Get in the car; You’re a part of this family, part of this team,’” Madden says. “There was no time for reflection or goodbyes. He would say, ‘You want to stay in the same town your whole life? What kind of life is that?’ and ‘You’re not even going to remember these people.’”

But Madden has carried the experiences of Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Michigan and Georgia and their people with her throughout her life. They enabled her to write the novel Offsides, a New York Public Library Pick for the Teen Age in 1997, and the Maggie Valley Trilogy, published by Viking Children’s Books. The trilogy includes Gentle’s Holler (2005), Louisiana’s Song (2007) and Jessie’s Mountain (2008) and is set in the heart of Appalachia in the Smoky Mountains. 
Offsides captured that zany life of her youth in an almost autobiographical form. Madden didn’t like to move, and especially didn’t like the idea she wouldn’t remember her friends when she left them.

“I think out of defiance — not so much to my dad, but to myself — I vowed I was not going to forget friends like Sarah Campbell or Annie Monteverde,” Madden says. “And I’m still in touch with them today. I think all of those experiences shaped my writing, even though I resisted the moving and argued and hated to say goodbye. I’m grateful because I got to see many different areas, meet many different people and have some wonderful life experiences.”

Constantly writing
Madden has written other books and essays, including Writing Smarts, which is full of story sparks for young writers and was published by American Girl.

Her latest book, Harper Lee: Up Close, was published by Viking and made Booklist’s Ten Top Biographies of 2009 for Youth. 

Madden traveled to Monroeville to interview Lee’s classmates, which led to opportunities to interview writers and Alabama natives Mary Ward Brown, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Helen Norris Bell. She wrote the essay Words on Fire based on those encounters, published in Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art.

“I just loved writing that essay,” Madden says. “I wanted to talk with old lady writers who didn’t care about Facebook or keeping a blog, women who just wrote stories because they wanted to write stories at a time when they weren’t encouraged to write stories.”

Madden says she constantly is writing, and a good portion of that which she composes, she says, stays in notebooks never to been seen by others.

“I tell my students you have to write the junk to get to the good stuff, to find the story,” she says.

Madden is 12 chapters into a children’s novel called The Fifth-Grade Life of Jack Gettlefinger, which is a takeoff on her son Flannery’s childhood loves of werewolves, Lon Chaney senior and Hamlet.

“All three of my kids are involved in some way,” she says. “It’s a love letter to the kids and their childhood.”

Missing family
And it’s her family that Madden misses the most right now. She moved to Homewood in August, leaving her husband Kiffen and 10-year-old Norah in Los Angeles for this school year. Flannery is a senior at the University of California-Santa Barbara and daughter Lucy is a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

Her husband is a teacher at an elementary school in Los Angeles with 21 years in the system. Norah goes to school there, but has an open invitation to join her mother here if living apart gets too hard for her. 

The distance apart has been tough on Madden, as she chronicled in an opinion piece published in the Sept. 20 edition of the Los Angeles Times, but she says the faculty in the Department of English have gone out of their way to help her feel at home, collecting furniture for her apartment and helping her set it up. Their kindness has eased the transition to what she hopes will eventually be her new home.

“I’ll consider it home when my husband and daughter join me,” she says.

“My husband is from the South, from Tennessee, and he looks at coming back as making our lives bigger and opening up more possibilities. What we’d love to do is get a place here out in the country. That’s the dream.”
And about that one time she was John Madden’s daughter? Well, she’s got a good excuse for playing the role of imposter.

She was at a Books-A-Million in Knoxville, Tenn., for a book-signing when an elderly woman who worked at the store showed her the pedometer attached to her belt to count how many miles she clocked each day at the store. Then she took Madden by the hand and said with tears in her eyes: “You don’t know how happy you’ve made me by coming here today. I’ve followed your father’s career my whole life. I love your father so much. It means the world meeting you.”

Then, the elderly woman started to cry.

“What could I say,” Madden says. “I just hugged her and said, ‘Thank you very much.’”