David Ebershoff is the author of two novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a short-story collection, The Rose City. His fiction has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts...read more
David Ebershoff is the author of two novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a short-story collection, The Rose City. His fiction has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lambda Literary Award, and has been translated into ten languages to critical acclaim. Ebershoff has taught creative writing at New York University and Princeton and is currently an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. For many years he was the publishing director of the Modern Library, and he is currently an editor-at-large for Random House. He lives in New York City.
I first heard about Ann Eliza Young while editing a book for the Modern Library. A scholar of 19th century women’s history mentioned her to me in passing. She was making a point about the long tradition of personal memoirs in American publishing, but I thought to myself, Who is this woman known as the 19th wife? What does it mean to be a 19th wife? I couldn't get the idea out of my head. I started researching Ann Eliza’s life, but no matter how much I read by and about her, I was having a hard time grasping what it truly meant to be a plural wife. How does it feel to share your spouse with umpteen others? What kind of internal life could you have in such a busy, crowded household? What would it be like to be the child of plural marriage? After pondering these questions for some time, I decided I needed to interview a few plural wives on background to get to the emotional heart of my protagonist. I drove down to Hildale/Colorado City, the infamous polygamous city that straddles the border of Utah and Arizona, hoping to find a few women to interview. Immediately I knew I was in a place unlike any other in America. The women were wearing prairie-style dresses. And there were a lot of children — mostly blond kids with vacant eyes who looked at me with an admixture of fear and bewilderment. Outside the co-op, I soon discovered no one would talk to me. I went inside to buy some water. Even the check-out girl wouldn’t speak to me as she rang up my purchase. I started driving around town, up and down the dirt roads lined with large, sloppily built houses. That’s when I noticed a police cruiser trailing me. I turned the corner and he turned. I turned again and so did he. He was following me and soon enough it was clear he was going to stay on my tail until I left. Quite simply, I was being driven out of town. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t simply write Ann Eliza’s story. I had to write a contemporary narrative as well, weaving them together in a way that shows the full story of polygamy in the United States.