Historical fiction often blurs the lines between truth and story.
Authors A. K. Blakemore and Rivka Galchen each have new books out that explore the very real witch trials of the 17th century. But their approach to the subject matter and the characters at the center of each story feel like opposite sides of the same coin.
Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches is set in 1643 and follows the young, single, and naïve Rebecca West, who is being pursued by the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General. Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch centers around elderly, illiterate widow Katharina, who is accused of witchcraft in 1618 in the German territory of Württemberg.
As part of Portland Book Festival, OPB host Crystal Ligori sat down with the writers to discuss the process of basing fiction on historical events, how individual experiences can be wrapped up in national and global circumstances, and what it really means to be a witch.
A. K. BLAKEMORE is the author of two collections of poetry: Humbert Summer and Fondue. She has also translated the work of Sichuanese poet Yu Yoyo. Her poetry and prose writing have been widely published and anthologized, appearing in the London Review of Books, Poetry, The Poetry Review, and The White Review, among other publications. The Manningtree Witches is is her debut novel. She lives in London, England.
Rivka Galchen received her MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, having spent a year in South America working on public health issues. Galchen completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. Her essay on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics was published in The Believer, and she is the recipient of a 2006 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Galchen lives in New York City. She is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances.
Crystal Ligori is the Producer and News Anchor for OPB’s All Things Considered and produces the weekly radio program Literary Arts: The Archive Project. She also narrates the digital food series Superabundant. Before joining OPB, she spent six years on-air across the Pacific Northwest as a host and producer at KUFO in Portland, KZZU in Spokane, WA and at KBGA in Missoula, MT. Her work has also been heard on National Public Radio Newscasts, PRX’s Living on Earth, and NPR’s All Things Considered. Crystal is an alumni of the School of Journalism at the University of Montana and she shares a regional Emmy nomination for the documentary “Testing Times: Montana’s Struggle to Leave No Child Behind”, for which she was a segment producer and narrator.