Interview with Rachel Rueckert, Author of East Winds
You know when you read a book and relate to it? You relate in a way that makes you ponder, maybe even confront your own ideas, your own memories, your own biases, all the while entertaining you so much that hours pass without your notice. That was East Winds: A Global Quest to Reckon with Marriage for me. I was only too happy to spend some time with Rachel, asking her some of my questions about her beautiful work and words. Please enjoy!
- We know that you are the Editor of the Exponent Magazine, but in the book we learn that you started out in anthropology (so cool!). This blend of anthro and word magic comes through in the book for me as a reader, but how do writing and anthropology relate to you in your writing?
As an English and anthropology student at BYU, I saw a glaring divide. Ethnography was dense and only read in academia, and I found lots of travel writing exploitative and shallow. In college, I had a goal of being able to write something different from those models presented. There is no way I would have the skills or courage to research what I did in East Winds without my anthropology training and field work experience. I feel like my English major taught me how to think, and my anthropology degree taught me how to listen.
- What or who inspired you to turn this experience into a book?
While I can point to specific inspiration for other writing projects I’ve done, East Winds didn’t have one. I had to understand this aspect of my life that had become so all-consuming, terrifying, with such a strong-hold over how I saw and lived my life. I had to untangle this knot, and there were no other books I saw out there that looked like my experience. So I wrote. I wrote to make sense of my life; I wrote because I had to.
In a recent interview I did with AML, I said, “Rather than being struck by the lightning of an idea (to use that familiar metaphor), it felt like lightning was already inside me, crackling from within, white-hot and burning to escape and be seen and studied and witnessed and understood by me, its host.” That is really what it felt like! In many ways, I feel like I have been writing East Winds my whole life.
- You discuss so many personal things as you unravel and discover what marriage is to you. How did you gain the confidence to do this?
Honestly, I’m not sure I realized how bold this was when I was drafting, just writing because I felt compelled. I guess, working on this for almost eight years, I feel I’ve worked too hard to bow out now. But wow. It is vulnerable. I hope that, not having audience and the fear of what people would think of me while drafting, makes it even more honest and true.
- In consideration of modern marriage, Mormon marriage and so on- how might this book appeal to gay couples? How might it appeal to single Mormons?
The book isn’t so much about marriage as it is about learning how to abandon other people’s expectations of what it means to be “good” as I learned to embrace agency over my own life. Because this is a memoir, it focuses on my personal experience. But I do think that questioning simple stories about partnership in Mormonism, normalizing ambivalence and doubt, and making space for people to own their personal choices and trust themselves—despite the pressures and scripted models—can feel universal.
- You discuss your parents’ divorce in the book, and how it made you think about marriage. How did examining marriage help you to reconcile your thoughts on your own relationship with your parents, and with marriage?
I think it allowed me to see everything a bit more clearly and humanize them more at the same time. By letting their stories be their stories, and their blind spots their own blind spots, I was able to separate myself and my own life a little more—give up some of those notions of being “doomed” and so forth. Romantic partnership is one of the most personal, individual things. It’s impossible for anyone outside that partnership to really know what it is or what it is not on the outside.
- A bishop told me once that the most work he did in counselling, or referring women to counselling, stemmed from women’s relationships with their mothers. (I think it surprised him). But I see even in my own life that the cultural expectations of women—especially married women today are vastly different from those of my mother. What advice do you have for women struggling with the progression of women within marriage?
Such an interesting observation! Guilty as charged in my case. My book is as much a love letter to my mother, trying to understand her and our very complicated relationship, as much as anything.
I am not sure I have advice on that second question. One of the themes of my book, I hope, is the absurdity that is “advice” and my own, young quest for it—because that signaled that I was still looking for external validation and guidance when where I really needed to look was within. I don’t know if others relate (though I suspect they do), but encouraging women to trust themselves more would be marvelous.
- What future books can we expect from you? (because I loved this book!)
That’s so kind of you to say. I have a historical novel tentatively titled If the Tide Turns out on submission with my agent right now. I’ll be excited to share good news soon, I hope.
In terms of nonfiction, I have lots of projects stewing. I was writing a book about the climate crisis in Utah, but I had to take a break when it made me scary-level depressed. I also want to write a spiritual memoir (East Winds is not that), maybe a collection of essays, an exploration/interrogation of mental health among women in my family, and a memoir about becoming the legal guardian of my mother when I was in my twenties.
Rachel’s memoir, East Winds, can be ordered from anywhere that sells books. Learn more here: https://rachelrueckert.com/eastwinds