Karen Joy Fowler Talks “Booth” to LitHub

Karen Joy Fowler on Decentering John Wilkes Booth in a Novel About His Family

The Author of Booth Talks to Jane Ciabattari

By Jane Ciabattari

Karen Joy Fowler has an idiosyncratic, genre-bending approach to storytelling, showcased in three short story collections (including two World Fantasy Award winners, Black Glass and What I Didn’t See) and six novels (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize; her first novel, Sarah Canary, won the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian).

Her fascinating new novel, Booth, a historic saga illuminating the complexities of the assassin John Wilkes Booth’s family life, was triggered by the “one of our American spates of horrific mass shootings,” she writes in an introductory author’s note. “…I wondered about the families of the shooters—how would each family deal with their own culpability all the if-onlys… What happens to love we the person you love is a monster?” Our email exchange took place as the pandemic lockdown continued in California (she’s in Santa Cruz, I in Sonoma County).


Jane Ciabattari: How have you managed during this tumultuous and uncertain past few years? Writing? Family? Location?

Karen Joy Fowler: Writers may be better equipped for isolation than many other professions. I have desperately missed the years with my children and grandchildren that I’ll never get back. But otherwise, I quite like a day when I wake up knowing there is nowhere I need to go and I’m just home with my husband, my dog, and my books.

But if you’re asking how I’m surviving the political situation, the MAGA crowd, the plague, the wars in Yemen and Ukraine, the continual assault on Black citizens here at home, I don’t have an answer. I listen to music medicinally. I walk to the ocean early to see the sun rise. I feed the crows on my street. I zoom with friends. And still I work from inside a constant swirl of anger and disappointment and grief. It could be such a beautiful world. Everything we need is right here if only we were smart enough to keep it. Read the full interview at LitHub.

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