Author Interview: Sue Monk Kidd

An extraordinary story set in the first century about a woman who finds her voice and her destiny, from the celebrated number one New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd.

In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome’s occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’s life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman’s bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers.

We spoke with Sue Monk Kidd about what inspired her to write The Book of Longings, the importance of independent bookstores, and more.

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

Several years ago, I read an article in National Geographic about a fragment of an ancient manuscript in which Jesus spoke of having a wife. It was later judged to be a masterful forgery, but that was irrelevant to the creative storm this article set off in me. I was captivated almost instantly by the idea of writing a novel about this fictional wife. I began to imagine her. I gave her a name: Ana.

Of course, I don’t know if Jesus was married or not. There are reasons to believe he was and reasons to believe he wasn’t. But believing it was never the point. What mattered to me was imagining it. It seemed that imagining her and creating an alternate history might open up new ways of seeing and thinking. It occurred to me that if Jesus had actually had a wife at some point in his life, she would be the most silenced women in history. That inspired me. I woke up every morning wanting to give her a voice.

As I began to develop the narrative, it was clear to me that the story would be solely Ana’s. I knew, too, that she would have to have her own magnitude and passion, I envisioned her as gifted, brilliant, ambitious, a young woman who longs to write the lost stories of women. I also imbued her with a certain fierceness, that is, a mix of passion, rebelliousness and daring. There’s a reason Jesus calls her “Little Thunder.”

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

I’m not sure it would surprise others that I got to read the Author’s Note at the end of the audiobook, but it was a nice surprise for me.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

No. The book isn’t out yet. It will be released 4/21/2020.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I am an avid listener of audiobooks. I delight in being read to. I listen as I take walks, while I’m in the car and in waiting rooms.

Here are a few of my favorites:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
All five of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I’ve loved every indie bookstore I’ve ever set foot in. I love the prolific array of author events they offer and the customized and knowledgeable book recommendations they provide. And if the store has a resident dog or cat, that adds a whole other layer of heaven.

I can’t overstate the importance of independent bookstores to me professionally. It was the indie booksellers who got behind my first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, and hand sold it to customers with such persuasion, it gave the book velocity and a word-of-mouth credibility.

Over the years that followed, booksellers held countless book signings for me, hosted luncheons where I spoke, and arranged in-store events where I met with book clubs. I’m suddenly thinking of the book club event at Warwick’s in La Jolla, California, for my second novel, The Mermaid Chair, in which the store served up beautifully decorated mermaid cookies and saltwater taffy.

Header photo by Tony Pearce

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