Rivka Galchen: How Writing My Novel Helped to Self-Medicate Through the Pandemic
This Week on The Maris Review
This week on The Maris Review, Rivka Galchen joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her latest novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, out now from Picador. This conversation was part of the 2022 Miami Book Fair.
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On approaching subjects from a place of curiosity:
I have a very specific emotion of when I turned this novel in because it was plague times. And then it’s still plague times. So there’s a different feeling and a same feeling. I think we all have ways of managing levels of alarm. When I was writing this novel, I started emotionally writing it in 2016, which was a high alarm period. It’s just interesting to titrate and see where you are in relation to your levels of alarm at any given moment…
I’m one of those people who starts a lot of projects and definitely don’t finish all of them, so when I do it usually feels almost like the project believed me into finishing it. It sees me, it really wanted my attention. And that was definitely the case with this project. Emotionally I started writing the book in 2016. So the book follows the story of the astronomer Johannes Kepler and his mother when she was in her late sixties and came under the suspicion of being a witch. And Kepler sort of had to manage this and drop a lot of things in order to protect her. And at the same time he was somewhat implicated in everyone’s interest in her. Because accusing someone of being a witch is actually a passionate interest to have in somebody as opposed to indifference, which would be maybe a more common way that people related to an old peasant woman at the time. I was spending a lot of time self-medicating with scientific biography during that period of time. So that was kind of basically the way that the political hostility and fear and anxiety of that time processed through me.
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
Rivka Galchen is the recipient of a William Saroyan International Prize for Fiction and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, among other distinctions. She writes regularly for The New Yorker, whose editors selected her for their list of 20 Under 40 American fiction writers in 2010. Her debut novel Atmospheric Disturbances (2008) and her story collection American Innovations were both New York Times Best Books of the Year. She has received an MD from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Galchen lives in New York City.