A dining room table. In the foreground, two composition notebooks and several typewritten pages with notes scribbled across them, alongside a nearly empty glass of water and two mugs filled with hot beverages. Further back on the table, a cat. Beyond that, a trunk with some books on it. In the corner, a rocking chair.
A dining room table. In the foreground, two composition notebooks and several typewritten pages with notes scribbled across them, alongside a nearly empty glass of water and two mugs filled with hot beverages. Further back on the table, a cat. Beyond that, a trunk with some books on it. In the corner, a rocking chair.
Revisions, October 2019

At times while working on my book over the years, I would become resentful of it, as if it had its own expectations, as if the draft itself were insisting I recount the entire history of genealogy in the United States or offer a dissertation on genetics. Ugh, now I have to write this boring part, I would think. I would spend a few days in active rebellion against this directive that I imagined the book was imposing.

Then I would realize: this is my book! There are no rules! I can write it however I want! Also, I would…


My great-great grandfather, Sylvester Kinchen, driving Granny and her little sister somewhere in his wagon, with a very hungry horse.

A tree full of owls, a calf at a new gate, a mouse peeing on cotton — my mom and I disagree on many things, but one thing that brings us joy together is remembering my Texan granny’s expressions. Grannyisms, my mom calls them. Granny was born into poverty in Dallas in 1905. She was no stranger to subsistence farming, and her expressions reflect that. Here are some favorites.

  • She looked at me like a calf at a new gate.


On the front porch of my first house in Miami, at age four or five.

"Why aren’t you living in a trailer park?” a writer asked me once.

I was (and am) a fan of this writer’s books, and I had just met them at a small gathering in Manhattan. We were talking about the writer’s work and some other things, and over the course of the conversation they mentioned a tongues-speaking evangelical church they’d ventured into not long before. I said my mother had once started that very kind of church in my living room. And then the writer, as we used to say, laid that on me. “I can’t compete with that,” they…


Gargoyles. © Colin 2013.

In the early 1980s, my mom claimed to see demons everywhere, coiling around drivers who cut her off, perching on department store shoppers, floating above strangers walking down the road. Nearly everyone who didn’t agree with my mom was possessed, it seemed, from secular news anchors to the teachers at my fundamentalist school, who were the wrong kind of Christian. (They didn’t speak in tongues, play tambourines, lay on hands, or comprehend the immediate peril of Satan’s minions, so their beliefs were unprotected, creating a doorway for the devil to do his work.)

Sometimes she described demons appearing in the…


A woman with a white head covering and blue dress sits to the side as men search her trunk and other possessions for her father’s household gods
A woman with a white head covering and blue dress sits to the side as men search her trunk and other possessions for her father’s household gods
Francesco Fernandi (1679–1740) — Rachel Sitting on the Household Gods of Laban

Over time, I’ve been drawn to ancestor-focused spiritual practices. At first my interest was theoretical. Recently these kinds of practices have become important to me.

This development, like my family, is complicated. I grew up a doubting Christian. My mom started a Hallelujahful church in our living room, and my father, though also born-again, went to a Presbyterian church and was mortified by hers. I attended a fundamentalist school, with yet another spin on the gospel. It was a lot of Jesus. Ultimately, I reacted by becoming a devout agnostic but fearing a future religious conversion.

Now I’ve given up…


In my other life I do just as my parents want.

Image: Riley Kaminer

My parents didn’t agree about who I should or would turn out to be, and maybe that’s the reason I ended up disappointing each of them and going my own way. My sister and I often have this conversation: would one or both of us have wound up being who they wanted if they’d envisioned the same unthinkable path rather than contradictory ones? If we’d been brainwashed with a consistent world view? If so, hard as it was to be stuck between the two and required to pay lip service to both, I’m glad their visions were unaligned.


“Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered,” my father, a tax lawyer, always said. I was still in elementary school when he started teaching me about his work, how he took provisions intended to impose tax on a particular business arrangement and found ambiguities that could be interpreted to allow his clients to do what they wanted and keep their money. I remember walking to church with him one Sunday as he explained the advantages of structuring a business as an S rather than a C corporation. …


by Maud Newton

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3341680985_556ae52895_b

Last year started with fluey nightmares about mice. I dreamed of mice used in research to benefit humans: “frantic” mice, for studying anxiety; “Methuselah” mice, known for longevity; and mice with human liver cells and brain cells and tumor cells. I also dreamed of mice that, as far as I know, exist only in my mind — mice with human lungs, brains, or hearts growing out of their bodies to replace our worn-out organs.

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you’ve probably seen that photo of a lab mouse with a human ear jutting…


by Maud Newton

I’m writing a book on deadline and keeping my job, so most of my day goes to work of one kind or another. Often I tell myself that I can’t spare the time to meet friends for dinner, or to go to a museum or a party or reading. Sometimes I even call in to therapy. And yet, on occasion, on those very same days I’m supposedly too busy to go out, I spend several hours clicking around to random stuff online. “It would be one thing,” I was telling my husband a couple months ago, “if…


When visiting your family becomes a chore

The last time I stayed with my father in Miami over the holidays, I made the mistake of thinking he was lonely. I had a bad habit of trying to decode his emotional state from external markers, in this case his threadbare green bathmat. Part of a towel set my parents acquired when I was seven or so, it had been in a sad state for more than a decade, but on my most recent visit the previous winter, it was covered with holes, actually disintegrating. Each morning before work, my father stepped out of the shower and…

Maud Newton

Writer. Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation coming from Random House, March 2022. Opinions mine. She/her/they/them.

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