Madder, matter, mater—a weed, a state of mind, a material, a meaning, a mother. Essayist and horticulturist Marco Wilkinson searches for the roots of his own selfhood among family myths and memories.
“My life, these weeds.” Marco Wilkinson uses his deep knowledge of undervalued plants, mainly weeds—invisible yet ubiquitous, unwanted yet abundant, out-of-place yet flourishing—as both structure and metaphor in these intimate vignettes. Madder combines poetic meditations on nature, immigration, queer sensuality, and willful forgetting with recollections of Wilkinson’s Rhode Island childhood and glimpses of his maternal family’s life in Uruguay. The son of a fierce, hard-working mother who tried to erase even the memory of his absent father from their lives, Wilkinson investigates his heritage with a mixture of anger and empathy as he wrestles with the ambiguity of his own history. Using a verdant iconography rich with wordplay and symbolism, Wilkinson offers a mesmerizing portrait of cultivating belonging in an uprooted world.
WBUR “Fall Books Reading List”
Lambda Literary Review, “October’s Most Anticipated LGBTQIA+ Literature”
“Experimental, intimate, and sensual, Madder is a thrilling debut.” —Alta
"A sensuous memoir, laid out in impressionistic vignettes, reflecting on rootedness, loss, and the solace of nature . . . evokes, as well, vibrant details of burrs and burdock, madder and thistles, moss and fungi. Nature yields mysteries and metaphor." —Kirkus
“Wilkinson portrays his restless uncertainty in regards to his paternity, his family’s immigration status, and his queer identity. But Wilkinson (now a horticulturist) triumphs when he is able to put down roots.” —Katherine Ouelette, WBUR
"Wilkinson’s memoir looks at the entangled stories of his upbringing, lineage, and sexuality. . . . [His] narrative shines in the lines of verse interspersed throughout." —Publishers Weekly
“Plant life is more than metaphor in the enthralling Madder. Rather, it’s a way into rethinking self, origin, the body, sexuality, spirit—the very idea of limit. In language both majestic and down to earth, Marco Wilkinson conjures up a manual for living, animated, exacting, and true to its darkness. A major achievement.” —Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World
“In the lush ecotone between poetry and prose, Marco Wilkinson, horticulturalist and caretaker of all things underseen, has propagated an extraordinary space where ‘the lost are found, one way or another, and cradled.’ Wilkinson has the rare ability to confront all that is deliberately hidden and at the same time protect the most delicate mysteries from harm. This utterly gorgeous, learned, tender treatise on kinship and the ecology of memory just knocked me out.” —Lia Purpura
“Madder: A Memoir in Weeds is a reminder of life’s messiness, of its wild beauty, minor consequence, and major ripples. Beautifully written with a concise, poetic prose, this hybrid work explores the ache in all of us, that space continually growing, grown over, starting anew with the seasons. Wilkinson treads the line between meaning and matter with exquisite attention, energy, and reverence.” —Kao Kalia Yang
“Marco Wilkinson’s Madder is a memoir unlike any I’ve encountered, with its unique lyricism, innovation of form, and virtuosic experimentation with memory. It’s part meditation on the nature of weeds and fungi; part critique of colonial narratives of invasive species; and part story of a life lived across borders, in the wreckage of familial absences and ‘un-memories, things not unknown.’ I am in awe of this book’s fortitude to imagine a pilgrimage out of a past that haunts because it does not change. ‘How can we tell a story if it never changes? When it is only the same thing always and forever?’ This book is a revelation in symbiosis, erasure, substitution, and fragment. It is a ‘little root swept up,’ a burr, a transgenerational seed from Uruguay to Rhode Island, New York, and the underground rhizome of a midwestern forest. I marvel at what Wilkinson has accomplished in exploring the resilience of plants we have deemed unwanted; their memory, like ours, buried in the dirt.” —Marcelo Hernandez Castillo