Sarah Blake’s ‘Naamah’ is a biblical story for feminists

Sarah Blake‘s debut novel is set during the Great Flood, which has been told and re-told throughout history. You probably know it as the story of Noah and his Ark. Blake decided that the version wasn’t enough. She dug and found Naamah, Noah’s wife.

She is a strong woman for young girls to look up to. In these pages, she reshapes the world after tragedy. Imagine Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé all rolled into one – that’s Naamah. Blake – a poet though this is her debut novel – uses her background to breathlessly move between reality and fable to tell a story about thousands of years ago but keep it fresh for the modern age. 

I wanted to learn more about Sarah Blake and why she was drawn to Naamah. We corresponded via email about religion, feminism, and her future.

I first wanted to start with your background. First, in your writing life, but also your connection – if any – to religion in the bible.

Who is Sarah Blake The Writer?

A poet, a novelist, a short story writer, a lover of craft, a lover of the surreal.

And your relationship with religion?

I’ve always been intrigued by religion. As a child, I asked my mother to drive me around to local Sunday services so I could see what religion was about. I experienced a lot traditions and holidays, prayers and rituals through my extended families.

Where did Naamah and the Ark’s story begin for you? 

I was rereading Genesis and writing poems that recaptured the women of Genesis in a new light. I couldn’t stop thinking about Naamah after writing poems about her. She wouldn’t let me go until I wrote the entire book.

I’ve talked to many writers who wrote historical fiction and explained their process about blending fact and fiction. What was your approach to something so ancient and so important to a large group of people?

Almost every writing day included some research, either about animals or life 10,000 years ago or making pitch. But mostly Naamah’s story doesn’t exist and there was not much to blend my fiction with. I used about every detail the original story offers!

Obviously, there is a fable/fantasy aspect of the novel. But the Bible also has folklore in it. How did you approach the realness and the fantasy of Naamah?

The story of Noah’s ark asks people to imagine and accept a gargantuan ship that holds couples of every single animal of the land and of the air. It’s a near impossible idea to hold in your head, but so many of us have pictured that ship and held onto that idea since we were children. My novel asks similar imaginings to take place starting at that first incredible jumping point and getting more and more fantastical from there.

The feminism themes throughout this were what really made me connect to your book. So often in religion, say Catholicism for instance, so much of it is patriarchal. Are there feminist tales in the Bible that aren’t often told for one reason or another?

I don’t know of any feminist tales from the Bible, but I’m not particularly familiar with the Bible, only a few of its excerpts and dozens upon dozens of retellings.

I believe I read you’re working on a novel in the future. I won’t ask about that because I don’t want to jinx anything. But is there another time period in the past, Biblically or Modern, that you’d want to explore through your writing?

Nothing has struck me yet! I find I’m most drawn to world-building, and outside of the ark, those worlds have often sprung out of the present or the near future.

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