Jacinda Townsend on What It Means to Mother
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Jacinda Townsend about her latest novel, Mother Country.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Earlier you said it took you years to overcome the feeling that you weren’t your children’s real mother because your birth plan didn’t go as planned because you had a C-section. You incorporated this idea into Mother Country alongside a story of a female Mauritanian slave who we see enslaved and on the road to Morocco. That’s a lot of pain to be writing about. Did any movement take place inside of you, a type of understanding or movement in how you held all that?
Jacinda Townsend: As I was writing the novel, my children were getting older, and I was coming to this understanding about all the things I was doing for them that have nothing to do with the moment I gave birth to them, and that was what made me a mother. One of my children, I’ve had to advocate a lot for in school, and that’s what made me a mother.
So, as I was writing this character who is very different from me, who was coming to grips with the fact that suddenly she had a child in her kitchen—I thought in a lot of ways, this is the same thing that I am doing. Suddenly there were infants, they were in my kitchen, they were in my hands. To be a mother is a noun, but it’s very much a verb. And that’s what made me a mother, just as that’s what made Shannon, the character in the book, a mother as well.
So, I think that was my healing process, just realizing that there are all these affirmative actions that have nothing to do with your body and what your body did one day. And then with the slavery thing, I just had her voice in my head that whole time. This Mauritanian woman I met who told me, “Just tell my story, just tell my story.” And it made me feel so much more powerful in the face of such brutality and such powerlessness that this whole country of people has. It made me feel really good to be able to give voice to people who can’t give voice to themselves. They don’t speak English or even French; the idea that someone can tell their story when they literally can’t, and when the government isn’t letting them, that was something that drove me to finish the book every day. I wanted to be able to give voice to that.
Jacinda Townsend is the author of Saint Monkey which is set in 1950s Eastern Kentucky and won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction. Saint Monkey was also the 2015 Honor Book of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her second novel is called Mother Country.