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$1375
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Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Book talk at Buffalo Street Books: Rachel Yoder’s ‘Nightbitch’

Left+to+right%3A+Melanie+Conroy-Goldman+and+Rachel+Yoder
Van Hoang
Left to right: Melanie Conroy-Goldman and Rachel Yoder

Within the cozy and warm atmosphere found at Buffalo Street Books is the opportunity for locals in Ithaca to hear from visiting authors all around the world. With a newly renovated backdrop of painted butterflies in the background and nearly every seat in the house taken, author Rachel Yoder sparked conversations about motherhood, taking risks in fiction and what it’s like to see your work adapted for the big screen.

On Oct. 28, Yoder visited Buffalo Street Books to discuss her debut novel, “Nightbitch.” The book follows a struggling mother who starts to suspect that she is turning into a dog, a thought that her frequently out-of-town husband dismisses as mere fantasy. After being released in July 2021, the book has been the recipient of many awards with a film adaptation releasing this year, directed by Marielle Heller and starring Amy Adams.

Around 30 people attended the event. The conversation was moderated by author Melanie Conroy-Goldman, professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and owner at Buffalo Street Books. After reading “Nightbitch,” for the first time and being completely enchanted with it, Conroy-Goldman reached out to Yoder to be the writer in residency at her college. 

“This is a book with beautiful sentences and ambitious ideas, but it also crosses genres and plays around with horror,” Conroy-Goldman said. “It’s humorous and it’s a book about art. It’s hard to pin down and I like that about it. It makes it open, rich and original.”

Lisa Swayze, general manager and buyer at Buffalo Street Books, said the process for getting Yoder to speak at the bookstore was different than how they typically find authors. Upon seeing Yoder’s residency announcement on Instagram, Swayze reached out to Conroy-Goldman to see if Yoder would be interested. Usually, the bookstore finds authors that submit requests on their website to be featured.

“The further you go into the deep darkness of the literary community, the more connections you make,” Swayze said. “Little things come up.”

The event kicked off with Yoder reading an excerpt from an early section of her novel where strange things begin happening to the protagonist. As the audience listened carefully, laughing along to Yoder’s sharply written prose, she drew in fans and new readers alike to her writing style. After Yoder finished, Conroy-Goldman led a moderated discussion, asking questions that dove deep into Yoder’s inspiration and writing process.

Yoder is currently married with a 9-year-old son. After a particularly restless night with her son not being able to sleep properly, she said her husband made an offshoot joke about her being a “Nightbitch that eventually inspired the premise of the novel. 

“I knew I wanted to write about motherhood and my experience with it,” Yoder said. “I started writing personal essays, but I thought, ‘Is there a way to approach this topic in a fresh way?’ And so the dogmom angle seemed the freshest.”

In the little time she had everyday in-between taking care of her child and working, Yoder started writing on a schedule in short bursts — something she had never done before as a writer.

“I didn’t write for a number of years after he was born, which was a pretty big crisis for me,” Yoder said. “Once he was a little older, the way I wrote was through childcare. I got a grant from the State of Iowa so I could afford it for a couple of hours a day.”

For Yoder, who holds MFAs from the University of Arizona and the University of Iowa, coming up with “Nightbitch felt like she was writing the things she was not supposed to do.

“It’s a messy, confrontational, angry book about motherhood, which seemed like another bad idea,” Yoder said. “I hadn’t read that book. All of the books about motherhood have been very measured, ironic and intelligent. So I think the idea of a feral motherhood book was really appealing to me. It felt rebellious.”

The event concluded by giving space for audience members to ask questions, ranging from conversations about the book’s cover and the pushback Yoder received from editors on the title, to what it was like seeing her story made into a film.

Nora Marcus-Hecht 23, events coordinator and outreach coordinator at Buffalo Street Books, said more authors have been interested in coming into the bookstore recently. One of the reinnovations the store has undertaken is repainting the event space, an ongoing process since June 2023.

“We’ve always wanted this to be a nice, cozy space where people feel like they can sit down with a book and a cup of tea,” Marcus-Hecht said. “Even though the mural isn’t finished, I think it was still really great to see the blossoming of something behind her as she was talking.”

While the book has ultimately resonated with many people for its depiction of a female creator struggling to raise a child while not giving up the artistic part of herself, Yoder said her goals when starting out were not so lofty.

“It started as a place where I could tell the truth about everything I’d ever felt and I never had to show it to anyone,” Yoder said. “I really needed that outlet. In a lot of ways, especially the first part of the book, it wasn’t about contributing to a larger conversation. It was like, ‘I am performing an exorcism and getting this thing out of my body for myself.’”

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