In her newest, “Beheld,” novelist TaraShea Nesbit looks back to the 1630s to re-imagine the story of the first murder trial in the Puritan colony of Plymouth Plantation. Nesbit is also the author of the critically acclaimed historical novel “The Wives of Los Alamos.” After living in Seattle and then Colorado, Nesbit moved back to her home state of Ohio to teach at Miami University.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
NESBIT: When I go to bed I’ve been reading “Where Reasons Ends” by Yiyun Li, in which the narrator addresses her son who has passed away. I’m drawn to the lyricism of this book. I grabbed “The Crying Book” by Heather Christle when I had to clear my office out at school. I got it a while ago. It feels like the right time to read that. I just started “Little Constructions” by Anna Burns, which is funny and has great prose. It opens with a woman stealing a gun from a pawn shop. I have a particular interest in working-class stories narrated by strong female leads.
BOOKS: What other kinds of stories are you drawn to?
NESBIT: Stories about girlhood, such as “The Summer Book” by Tove Jansson. It’s set on an island, and she’s got a close relationship with her grandmother, similar to my own history. It’s a novel of grief but also of the small joys of being a child. Another example in that category is Tarjei Vesaas’s “The Ice Palace.” That’s the story of two girls in a small Norwegian town where the huge waterfall freezes over every year. I also love stories about communities, such as Tom Drury’s “The End of Vandalism,” which I have read three times. It’s set in a small town in Iowa and has rotating narrators.
BOOKS: Are you largely a fiction reader?
NESBIT: No, I have an M.F.A. in poetry. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that I really read novels and only because I befriended novelists. I started with poets writing prose like Claudia Rankine and then Juliana Spahr’s “The Transformation.”
BOOKS: Which poets do you still read?
NESBIT: I reread Rankine’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” every year. I love all of her work. I also love Maggie Nelson’s work, such as “The Argonauts.” I like Ross Gay, especially his “Book of Delights.” I’m really compelled by my friend Maggie Smith’s work, such as “Good Bones,” and I love Sarah Vap. Not enough people know about her. She wrote “Winter: Effulgences and Devotions,” which is about her attempt to write one poem about winter. She lives in a small house with her partner and kids. She writes in all the interruptions as she is trying to write the poem. It’s hilarious.
BOOKS: Which books would you recommend from your research for “Beheld”?
NESBIT: The first thing I read, William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation.” Also, David J. Silverman’s “This Land Is Their Land,” which is about the Wampanoag Indians and the colonists. I really liked Christine M. DeLucia’s “Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast,” and Jean M. O’Brien’s “Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England.”
BOOKS: How has the pandemic affected your reading?
NESBIT: I’ve felt more drawn to fairy tales because those are stories grappling with deep grief but in a way that also gives joy. I really like Kate Bernheimer’s “Horse, Flower, Bird.” I have two small kids so we frequently read Grimms and other fairy tale anthologies. There’s a great book by Lindsey Drager, “The Archive of Alternate Endings,” which is a re-imagining of the many ways Hans and Gretel could end.
BOOKS: Do you miss going to bookstores?
NESBIT: I love bookstores so much. I love the Boulder Book Store in Colorado, which was my local one for a long time. I love St. Louis’s Left Bank Books, which is where I went when I was a grad student. Now I look for stores that have a great kids’ section, ideally not too far from the poetry section, like at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati. When this passes, I want to take a bookstore tour.