It was my absolute pleasure to interview Sarah Blake (she/her) about Naamah. This retelling of the story of Noah from his bisexual wife’s perspective became a fast favorite of mine, and I can’t seem to stop including it in my “Best Of” Lists. Please enjoy this interview with Sarah Blake:
What motivated you to retell the story of Noah?
In my poetry, I was rewriting the stories of women I’d been introduced to in my childhood. In these new stories about them, I wanted them to be women that I would have been drawn to. So many stories of women ended in heartache, sacrifice, punishment, and death. And the happy endings took place at marriage, which seemed a little early to me.
What themes were you keen to explore and make your own?
I wanted to explore hopelessness. That’s what drew me to Naamah. I felt hopeless in my life (in the face of gun violence and rising antisemitism), but her situation was hopeless to the extreme. She was stuck on the water with no end in sight, with every task at hand a difficult one, and with everyone she knew dead. I wanted to offer her things–gifts, respite, love, escape.
And I was drawn to the time period. We have so little evidence about that time, I could imagine it however I wanted. I could explore sexuality, gender, and marriage without any of the social constraints of today. In a book about God trying to get the world right, I could make something closer to the world I wanted.
Naamah is a bisexual woman whose sexuality is complicated but never apologized for. Why was it important for you to create her this way?
I thought this was important, yes, but I also thought it would be the truth! I didn’t feel like I was creating Naamah that way. Instead I felt like I was interrogating what a woman would be like in this time, given these circumstances. That she would be bisexual (or pansexual) seemed beyond question to me. If you strip back all of the terrible things we’re taught about what’s normal and what’s not, about what to have shame about, what to have guilt about, I think what’s left is people experiencing attraction all over the spectrum of sexuality.
You chose to represent Naamah’s experience, in part, through her loss of vision. To me, that evokes so much of the hopelessness you described as a theme – the literal representation of not being able to see anything, let alone something better. What does Naamah’s inability to see the animals on the ark say about her way of coping with immense tragedy?
I’ve always been fascinated with the ways our minds try to protect us–what we forget and what we remember–and how often our mind gets it wrong. Holding onto some terrible memory isn’t actually protecting us from future harm! When I thought about Naamah on the ark, after months had passed, with no end to the flood in sight, I imagined that her mind might try to protect her. And the first thing I thought it might do is strip her of her ability to see them, which, of course, puts her in more danger.
For Naamah, the unseen world (of angels, visions, and memories) becomes more real than the family and animals that are stuck on the boat with her. Why did you focus so much of Naamah’s journey on her interactions with Sarai, with the Metatron, etc.?
The children, still alive under the water, were a gift to Naamah, and to myself. It was hard to face all of the tragedy that the flood posed. Sarai, too, was a gift–a glimpse into the future, some small hope that all of Naamah’s work is not for nothing.
From the start of the book, I knew Naamah would have to talk to God the way that Noah had talked to Him. And I knew that, according to ancient Jewish texts, this would be through the Metatron. (I also love Kevin Smith’s Dogma, and Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the Metatron, so I had to include him!) Building up her encounters with the Metatron allowed me and her to have that final conversation with God.
I am also struck by how much Naamah lives in her body, in her physicality. This is especially evident in her vibrant sex life. These sorts of representations are few and far between, never mind the fact that this is a reimagining of a biblical story. Did you have any pushback when you were creating or selling the book?
This is so important to me, across all of my work. I love bodies, and my body, and I want everyone to love their body. And I especially want people to have the language and the comfort level that they need to talk about their body, be it to their partner(s) or to medical professionals.
Luckily, I didn’t have any pushback. There were many agents who only wanted to represent the book if I removed the sex or the cursing or the whathaveyou. So I waited until I found the right agent! And she knew instantly which editor would love this book and would stand behind every part of it that mattered to me. I was very lucky.
What do you hope readers take away from Naamah?
I hope at the end of the book there’s a sense of power and joy. That’s what I wanted for Naamah and for myself.
Your new book, Clean Air, comes out February 8, 2022. What can you tell Roar Cat Reads readers about it?
I’m so excited about Clean Air. It’s about Izabel, her husband, Kaito, and their daughter, Cami. They live in a future where unfiltered air is unbreathable due to pollen levels. Their lives take place in dozens of airtight domes. At the very start of the book, someone begins slashing those domes, killing the families inside by exposing them to the air. Soon Izabel and her family get tangled up with the killer in a few unpredictable ways, and it’s a pretty wild ride!