Talking with Alexander Chee about The Queen of the Night

Screenshot 2016-02-01 17.56.41

The publication party for The Queen of the Night, the magnificent second novel by my dear friend Alexander Chee, is tomorrow night at McNally Jackson. I was stunned and so happy when he asked me to discuss the book with him there.

Alex and I became friends before I read his first book. An instant easy understanding was possible between us that might have been impossible if I’d encountered Edinburgh — which is wonderful and true and utterly its own thing — before I knew him. Over the years he has become a kind of muse for me, as well as a confidant and advisor, though I don’t think I ever put it to myself quite that way until I just typed the words just now.

He says he sees our conversation tomorrow night as an extension of the many we’ve had over the years. Most of those happened in private, obviously, but I’ve written about a few of them before: On creating the feeling you want the reader to feel; After the affair (on Jean Rhys and Ford Madox Ford); Some company for slow writers; and his amazing ancestry books.

The Queen of the Night tour schedule is here. You can follow along with the excitement at his Twitter feed.



Family Tree: Slate, Tin House, Begats

Grave map

At Slate, Ariel Bogle recaps a discussion I had last week with AJ Jacobs, Wilhelmina Rhodes-Kelly, and Chris Whitten on how technology is affecting the family tree. I talked a little bit about what drew me to research my ancestry in the first place.

Although technology is changing the way we discover our personal histories, the reasons why people may begin to investigate in the first place have stayed the same. Curiosity, of course, but also a sense of history. Maud Newton told the audience how her interest in her family tree was sparked by the improbable stories her mother told about their predecessors. But the importance of ancestry cut very close for Newton. “I myself was basically a eugenics project,” she said. “My parents married because they thought they would have smart children together, not because they loved each other.” Her father was particularly obsessed with the idea of purity of blood, she added. “Someone suggested to me that there might be something [my father] was hiding, and then I got really interested.”

We had lots of fun; I don’t think any of us were ready for the panel to end when it did, and how often can you say that? The audio is below Bogle’s summary, if you’d like to listen.

In related reading: at Tin House, my series of brief but wide-ranging interviews with authors about ancestry is ongoing. Guests so far are Laila Lalami, Celeste Ng, Saeed Jones, and Christopher Beha. And at The Begats, I’ve written in the last few months about Alexander Chee’s jokbo (gorgeous books recording his family history back to the Joseon Dynasty, which began in 1392), ancestor worship in the Old Testament, and some disappointing (but not too surprising) discoveries about my self-given namesake, Maude Newton Simmons, among other things.

The stark and stunning image above is a grave map — taken from Alex’s jokbo — for one of his ancestors.