Madison-based writer Michelle Wildgen focuses her craft on the in-between areas. While she’s made a name as a novelist, Wildgen doesn’t necessarily treat fiction as the center of her writing life. Variety in subject and approach seems like the norm for Wildgen, who contributes columns to multiple magazines including Tin House, writes extensively about food, and works behind the scenes as a teacher and editor.
Wildgen has lived in Madison for a cumulative 17 years, choosing to nestle into the city because of its ability to create a sense of place. Growing up in the Midwest, she found that many cities and towns can bleed together, but feels Madison is an exception. Wildgen even created a guide to Madison for writers visiting the city. Her affinity for Madison shows the sincerity in her craft. Every street has a memory attached to it. She details nooks and crannies of the city like a love letter. This sincerity can be seen throughout her writing, both fiction and nonfiction. The advice and critique she gives through essays and food reviews is warm and enduring. Wildgen’s sincerity also comes from diving head first when intrigued.
Her path to food writing started on the ground floor. After college, she knew she wanted to be a food reviewer, but didn’t quite know how. After getting a front of the house job at L’Etoile, she learned the dynamics, relationships, and performances that a kitchen goes through just to get you in the food and put food on your plate. This led to a fruitful career writing about food and eventually a position as an executive editor for Tin House, where she focuses on the food and drink columns, Readable Feast and Blithe Spirit.
Wildgen’s well-received first novel, You’re Not You, was published in 2006 and adapted into a film in 2014. Her third novel, 2014’s Bread And Butter, follows the story of a family conflict revolving around two separate restaurants. She says it gave her an opportunity to reflect on the lessons and memories of her time working in restaurants.
When she is not writing non-fiction reviews or columns, drafting her next novel, or working her critical eye as an editor, Wildgen passes her tools onto others here in Madison. She opened the Madison Writers’ Studio in 2013, alongside fellow author Susanna Daniel. This collective of teachers offers classes on revision, creating a first novel, and many of the fine details that go into the process behind a first book.
Wildgen joined us to discuss her work and read a passage from Bread And Butter.
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