TBF is excited to welcome Rumaan Alam to the 2018 Texas Book Festival! Alam is the author of That Kind of Mother, a novel about growing through the challenging balance of motherhood and work. In this novel, mother Rebecca grows in her perspectives of love and race as she tries to pursue simultaneously a career as an artist, be a good mother, and redefine her understanding of family after tragedy.
TBF: How did you come to write about the intersection of motherhood and race?
RUMAAN ALAM: I’m not sure it’s something I had planned. I had conceived of the book as one about a poet, about the reckoning between artistic ambition and parental responsibility. That is still a part of it, but race is too. I am a parent of children who are a different race than me, so I guess it’s understandable why it would be top of mind, but I never articulated to myself that I had some kind of point to make on the subject. I suppose for me, I begin writing with an objective then find the story and characters have a volition all their own.
TBF: What were your goals for Rebecca’s character while writing this novel? Is there anything you hoped the reader would learn from her?
RUMAAN ALAM: I wanted Rebecca to dramatize the tension between a desire to be a great artist and the demands that a parent perform that particular office. But she came, as I wrote, to embody something else; the book spends so much time with her, exploring her blindness to her own privilege. I’ve heard readers say that she’s not especially likeable, which is, to my thinking, not a very interesting way of assessing a book, but I suppose what I’d want is for a reader to interrogate precisely why they might find her unlikeable.
TBF: Princess Diana is a prevalent figure in this story. How did she wind up playing a role in the book?
RUMAAN ALAM: There’s no way to answer this question without sounding crazy. When I write, there are so many of these tiny details that are chosen because they are meaningful to me alone; when those details repeat, they become themes, or motifs, and thus feel meaningful. Diana appeared mostly as a sudden brainstorm, when I realized I’d given the protagonist a tall, older, English husband. But did I conjure that husband because I was thinking of Prince Charles? I’ve no idea. Princess Diana is not especially meaningful to me, personally, or wasn’t, when I began writing the book, but she kept showing up, and I allowed her in. Now I cannot imagine the book without her.
TBF: What book inspires you to be a better writer and why?
RUMAAN ALAM: Almost every book. I’m in awe of so many writers: Thomas Mann, Anita Brookner, Saul Bellow, Mary McCarthy, Shirley Hazzard, Jean Stafford – I could go on and on and on. Almost every book is a learning experience for me: oh this is how so-and-so handles dialogue, or the passage of time, or metaphor, or sex. Almost every book makes me wish I were better at something.
TBF: What is one thing in your house you’d grab in a fire?
RUMAAN ALAM: Besides my kids? And my husband? And the incomplete draft of my new book? And my family photos? And our passports and social security cards? And the painting of a whale my older son made when he was three that’s hanging over my desk? And the shells my younger son gave me for my birthday last week? Ah. Too late. I’ve died of smoke inhalation.
Catch Rumaan Alam on Sunday, October 28 at the State Capitol E2.028 from 2:00 – 2:45 at the 2018 Texas Book Festival!