Jacinda Townsend on what it means for the mother ‹ Literary Center

First draft: a writing dialogue is a weekly program featuring in-depth interviews with authors of fiction, non-fiction, essays and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, craft and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First try celebrates creative writing and the people who are dedicated to printing their carefully chosen words 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 land.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: Earlier you said that it took you years to get over the feeling that you weren’t the real mother of your children because your birth plan didn’t go as planned because you had a caesarean section. You incorporated this idea into Mother land alongside a story of a Mauritanian slave who we see enslaved and on the road to Morocco. It’s a lot of pain to write. Was there a movement inside of you, some kind of understanding or movement in the way you were holding all of this?

Jacinda Townsend: As I was writing the novel, my children were growing up and I was coming to this understanding of all the things I was doing for them that had nothing to do with when I brought them into the world, and that’s what made me a mother. One of my children, who I had to advocate a lot for in school, and that’s what made me a mother.

So while I was writing this character who is very different from me, who was taking into account the fact that all of a sudden she had a child in her kitchen, I thought in many ways, this is the same thing I do. Suddenly there were babies, they were in my kitchen, they were in my hands. To be a mother is a noun, but it is above all a verb. And that’s what made me a mother, just like it made Shannon, the character in the book, a mother too.

So I think that was my healing process, just realizing that there are all these positive actions that have nothing to do with your body and what your body once did. And then with the slavery thing, I just had his voice in my head the whole time. This Mauritanian woman I met who said to 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 powerlessness that this whole country of people has. It felt good to be able to give voice to people who cannot express themselves. They speak neither English nor even French; the idea of ​​someone being able to tell their story when they literally can’t and the government won’t allow it is something that drove me to finish the book every day. I wanted to be able to give a voice to that.


Jacinda Townsend is the author of holy monkey which is set in 1950s Eastern Kentucky and won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award and the James Fenimore Cooper Award for Historical Fiction. holy monkey was also the American Library Association’s 2015 Black Caucus Book of Honor. Her second novel is called Mother land.

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