Madeleine Nakamura Shatters Stereotypes with New Novel “Cursebreakers”


By Lucy Jaffee CMC ’26
Staff Writer

Madeleine Nakamura spoke at The Motley Coffeehouse at Scripps College on April 4, sharing the path to publishing her debut novel Cursebreakers and her experiences with how the publishing world treats intersectionality and uplifts marginalized voices.

Nakamura is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has received accolades such as a Kirkus Star and starred review from Independent Book Review for her novel. A graduate of Mills College with a degree in creative writing, Nakamura’s personal website states that “she began writing her first novel the day she realized a computer science degree wasn’t happening.” She currently works at Scripps College in the marketing and communications department.

Cursebreakers, which was published in 2023 by Canis Major Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, follows protagonist ex-physician and professor of magic, Adrien Desfourneaux, on a quest to stop a curse from spreading in the city of Astrum.  In addition to facing pressure from competing factions, Adrien “must survive his own bipolar disorder and self-destructive tendencies,” according to Red Hen’s website.

The lunchtime conversation with Nakamura was hosted as a part of the Scripps Presents @ Noon Lunchtime series, “a unique opportunity to engage with renowned scholars, writers, and performers, and thinkers in an intimate daytime setting,” as the Scripps website states. The events are open to the public and free for students to attend. 

Nakamura was in conversation with Rachel Warecki ’08, a Scripps College alumna and novelist who is a current MacDowell fellow. 

Marcy Robinson, Director of Events and Conference Services at Scripps Colleges, said she invited Nakamura to speak to highlight her experience as an emerging writer. In particular, the event was designed to create a space for students to discuss writing as a craft and learn more about Nakamura’s writing process. “We want to inspire others,” Robinson added. 

Nakamura discussed the often hypocritical messages the publishing world sends to writers of color. As a Japanese woman, she shared that publishers are often only interested “in finding new and interesting ways to leverage your identity to their benefit.” 

She recalled getting asked once why her writing did not feature a samurai — a medieval Japanese soldier often showcased in American media. “There were many times when I felt myself reduced to just a list of characteristics,” Nakamura said. 

Moreover, she experienced the confined scope in which publishers and readers define a “good” representation of mental health. She wrote Adrien, the protagonist in Cursebreakers, based on her own experiences with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that affects over six million Americans. Copies of her book were for sale after the event and Nakamura independently donated 20% of the price of each book sold to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Her inclusion of a queer, bipolar character challenged fears that portraying a queer person as less-than-perfect would contribute to anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. “I think critics and readers feel like you cannot portray a queer person as romantically maladjusted because there are all these stereotypes of queer people being ‘unhealthy’ in that way already,” she said. “But the risk that you run there is demanding perfection of queer people.”

In particular, the fantasy genre presents a unique challenge as writers must decide whether to include real-world societal issues in the fantasy world they craft. “A lot of people have this sense that if you are not tackling issues like in-world homophobia and discrimination in your fantasy, then you’re kind of abandoning your duty as a queer writer to speak on these issues,” Nakamura said. “Other people feel it’s a matter of normalization and escapism to not include these issues.”

She found herself unsuccessful in pursuing the traditional publishing route, as agents were looking for a specific type of queer narrative. Instead, she found “a home” for her book at a team-building event at her work. At the time, Nakamura was an assistant copy editor at Red Hen Press, which calls itself the “biggest little press in LA.” She unexpectedly sat next to Red Hen’s co-founder who expressed interest in her book. 

While many other writers define success as being published by one of the “Big Five” publishers, such as HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster, Nakamura felt her story was better suited for a small press. It also allowed her more discretion as to how the novel was marketed. “You need to check really carefully that, if you pay someone to promote your book, they understand what the book is about,” she said.

Nakamura is currently editing the sequel to Cursebreakers, which will be released in 2025. She also hopes to write new manuscripts and describes her writing process as spontaneous and undisciplined. 

As a college student, Nakamura wrote her first two novels in three months each, to which an audience member asked how Nakamura handles imposter syndrome, common among aspiring creatives in college. “The cure is to surround yourself by people who will be fair and honest with you,” she said. “Listen to the people you trust.”

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Wang ’25

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