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Echoes of the Past: Ann Leary on The Foundling and Maud Newton on Ancestor Trouble

June 9, 2022

The burgeoning fascination with genealogy, epigenetics, and the concept of inherited trauma over the past few years points to a desire to understand ourselves through our pasts, and create a narrative of our own lives. The rising popularity of paying to have your DNA tested to trace generations of migration may seem more primed to inspire science fiction but, increasingly, writers have been mining their family pasts to create deeply intimate personal narratives, using both fiction and nonfiction as a means to reckon with the troubling history of their lineages.

Ann Leary was inspired by a shocking discovery about her grandmother to write The Foundling, a novel about a woman who takes a secretarial job at a medical institution under the guise that its purpose is to help women in danger, only to unravel its secret intention to be a eugenics program for women deemed unfit to reproduce. Maud Newton’s Ancestor Trouble traces the evolution of our sociological, cultural, scientific, and religious relationships with our ancestors alongside her research into her own family’s history, uncovering murder, mental illness, racism, and religious fanaticism along the way. Leary joined Newton in conversation regarding these two fascinating texts, using literature as a tool to contend with personal history, and the circularity of the past.

In Conversation

  • Ann Leary 2 (credit Scott M. Lacey) - Claire Fennell

    Ann Leary

    Ann Leary

    Ann Leary is the New York Times bestselling author of a memoir and four novels including The Good House. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages, and she has written for the New York Times, Ploughshares, NPR, Redbook, and Real Simple, among other publications. Her essay, “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” was adapted for Amazon’s television series, Modern Love. She lives with her husband in New York. Visit her online at

    Photo Credit: Scott Lacey

  • Maud author photo_CREDIT IS Maximus Clarke - Claire Fennell

    Maud Newton

    Maud Newton

    Maud Newton has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and Oxford American. She grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in English and law.

    Photo Credit: Maximus Clarke