Queen of the Bees

She's 14 years old, cute as heck, and she can spell "festschrift." Which ought to come in handy when Ingleside Middle School eighth-grader Maddy Kloss represents all of Arizona next week at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The winner of the 2004 State Spelling Bee is no Little Miss Smarty Pants (even if she has scribbled "Maddy is the best speller ever!" across the back of her spiral notebook). She's just a nice kid who can spell "hematozoon."

New Times: Maddy, you won the state competition with the word "piscatory." I don't even know what that word means. It sounds naughty.

Maddy Kloss: It means "living by or given to fishing." I didn't know how to spell it at first, but I figured it out.

NT: I was a spelling bee champ, too. Only I didn't make it past regionals.

Kloss: Everybody has a story like that. I have random people coming up to me, and they're like, "Oh, I won the regional bee!" Like I care!

NT: I guess you don't want to know what word I lost with, then.

Kloss: Was it something really easy?

NT: It was "blonde." I put an "e" on the end.

Kloss: (Outraged.) Well, there's two ways to spell it! That's not fair!

NT: Thanks. How come you're such a good little speller?

Kloss: I have no idea. I didn't, like, wake up and say, "I'm gonna be a good speller!" Because if I had the choice of being good at something, I'd pick something other than spelling. Maybe not, though -- maybe I'm just sick of spelling, I don't know.

NT: What's a Paideia?

Kloss: It's a little book that they give you that has all the words they might use for district, regional and state. You have to know all these words, and there are all these crazy ones in there, too. Look at these here.

NT: What's the point of all this?

Kloss: I have no idea! To see if you can spell words, I guess. Spelling is a good thing, but some people get obsessed. Look, here's a book all about last year's bee. It has all this stuff about what words were used last year, and how all these people studied, and the tools they bought to win the spelling bee. This is how far people are going -- they're buying hundred-dollar books just so they can win the spelling bee! It's getting very competitive.

NT: I guess so.

Kloss: Here's a page of pictures of the kids who won last year, and I colored in all their faces.

NT: Why?

Kloss: Because I was bored. This is how much I'm interested in spelling. Studying spelling, at least. After I drew on them, I wrote down what they look like. Like this kid looks like a chipmunk, so I wrote "chipmunk."

NT: Now that you've won, are you using your win for leverage with your parents? Like, "I can spell really well, so you should let me wear makeup"?

Kloss: I can't use it to get things. And definitely not makeup. I don't like [makeup] anyways, so it's okay. I can't use it to get them to buy me things, because I know it won't work. "I won the spelling bee!" won't matter to my parents.

NT: You were neck-and-neck with little Kirsten Adams at regionals. Were you pleased when she finally fell out?

Kloss: (Rolling eyes.) I was only neck-and-neck until her fifth word, which she didn't know. Which means she didn't know the words well enough. She studies more than I do, but she still doesn't know the words. Her strategy is "Study as much as you can," and my strategy is "Know the words, and use them to learn other words." (Trades glances with mom from across the room.) Okay, I'm supposed to be quiet now.

NT: Are your parents sort of stage parents -- forcing you to be in spelling bees and stuff?

Kloss: (Laughing loudly.) Of course [my mom] isn't a stage parent! She'd love the thought that she is, though. Okay, spell this word: "Ooporphyrin." It's Greek, and it's a noun. See, I have to know 250 words like this!

NT: May I have the word again, please?

Kloss: Ooporphyrin!

NT: O-A . . .

Kloss: (Laughing.) You lose! It's O-o-p-o-r-p-h-y-r-i-n. It's the brown pigment in eggshells.

NT: This is so embarrassing. How about "strephosymbolia"?

Kloss: That's easy. It's in the Paideia. S-t-r-e-p-h-o-s-y-m-b-o-l-i-a. (Reaches over and takes my list of questions.) And you spelled it wrong on your page here. It's s-t-r-e, not s-t-r-a. Hey, there's a question on here you didn't ask me: "Do the other kids think you're a spaz?"

NT: Give me that. I'm done with you.

Kloss: Are you going to edit out that thing I said about the other girl? I don't think my mom liked that too well.

NT: I thought you were a perfect little lady. Good luck at the Nationals.

Kloss: Thank you very much.

E-mail [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela