Ancestor Trouble with Maud Newton and Rebecca Donner 9/9/22

On Friday, September 9, 2022, the Brattleboro Literary Festival hosted authors Maud Newton, and Rebecca Donner to discuss Maud’s book, "Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation."

Maud Newton’s ancestors have vexed and fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father, who came of age in Texas during the Great Depression, was said to have married thirteen times and been shot by one of his wives. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died in an institution. Mental illness and religious fanaticism percolated through Maud’s maternal lines back to an ancestor accused of being a witch in Puritan-era Massachusetts. Maud’s father, an aerospace engineer turned lawyer, was an educated man who extolled the virtues of slavery and obsessed over the “purity” of his family bloodline, which he traced back to the Revolutionary War. He tried in vain to control Maud’s mother, a whirlwind of charisma and passion given to feverish projects: thirty rescue cats, and a church in the family’s living room where she performed exorcisms.

Searching, moving, and inspiring, Ancestor Trouble is one writer’s attempt to use genealogy—a once-niche hobby that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry—to expose the secrets and contradictions of her own ancestors, and to argue for the transformational possibilities that reckoning with our ancestors offers all of us.

 

Maud Newton is a writer and a critic. Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation (Random House), her first book, has been called “a literary feat” by the New York Times Book Review and a “brilliant mix of personal memoir and cultural observation” by the Boston Globe, praised by Oprah Daily, NPR, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Vulture, the Los Angeles Times, Wired, and many others, and named one of Esquire’s best books of 2022. Excerpts from the book have appeared in Esquire, Time, and the Wall Street Journal.

Rebecca Donner is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, which won the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the 2022 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, the 2022 Chautauqua Prize, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Plutarch Award.

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