Before I realized I was writing a nonfiction book about my ancestors, I wrote what ultimately became the second chapter of Ancestor Trouble as an essay for a reading with Alexander Chee at the KGB Bar. I’d been trying and failing for a couple years to write about my great-grandfather, Charley, and his story at last took a preliminary shape as I scrambled to put together something new for that night.
Alex read “The Rosary” (one of my favorite essays of his, although every Alex essay I can think of is one of my favorites of his), which was later included in his collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. When I think of books about writing and life that I wish had existed when I was a troubled college student and aspiring writer in the early 1990s, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is at the very top of the list, but that’s probably not a surprise to anyone who’s followed my blog, my newsletter, or my other writings. Ever since Alex and I became friends and I discovered what I’d missed in not reading his work earlier, he has been one of my most cherished muses. Tonight I did a quick Google search to see when our reading was, and an old post of his reveals that it was in April 2012, almost exactly ten years before Ancestor Trouble will be published (on March 29 of next year). It doesn’t feel like that long ago to me, but realizing the near-anniversary makes me happy.
In other news, it was a thrill to wake up this morning and see Ancestor Trouble on TIME’s list of the most-anticipated books of 2022! This selection feels especially meaningful because my father spoke to my mother for the very first time, in 1969, to ask to borrow the copy of TIME she was reading while sunbathing at her sorority sister’s pool. The rest of their relationship was… not so serene.
Amended to add: For Literary Hub, Alexander Chee writes, “at this very moment, I’m riveted by Maud Newton’s forthcoming nonfiction book Ancestor Trouble, on what she discovered about white supremacy while examining her family’s legends.” And on Twitter he compared the book to “following a lit fuse through the dark.” The admiration is mutual—and then some!