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The Folger Spotlight

Words, Words, Words: 'Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch' by Rivka Galchen

Bust of Shakespeare wearing thick rimmed glasses on an aqua background
Bust of Shakespeare wearing thick rimmed glasses on an aqua background

The Folger’s virtual book club, Words, Words, Words continues on Thursday, October 7 with a discussion of Rivka Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this sly, provoking tale inspired by real-life witch trails from the 17th century.

What is Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch about?

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka GalchenThe story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years’ War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch. When the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold (or as Katharina calls her, the Werewolf) accuses Katharina of offering her a bitter, witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her scientist son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother.

Drawing on real historical documents but infused with intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will both provoke and entertain. The story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear is a tale for our time.

Critical Reception

“The comedy that runs through “Everyone Knows” is a magical brew of absurdity and brutality . . . There’s real sorcery here.”—Washington Post

“Dazzling in its humor, intelligence, and the richness of its created world.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Galchen has written another smart book that investigates the power of narrative, both good and bad, foregrounding a woman who’d only been a footnote to a famous man’s story, all while being funny and deceptively easy to read. It’s quite a magic trick.”—Los Angeles Times

“Rivka Galchen’s smart, wry novel is a thought-provoking take on the proverbial witch hunt . . . Punctuated with sparkling wit and irreverent humor, [the novel] taps into the depths of who we choose to fear and why.”―Time

Why did we pick this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, and critical and performance histories.

The notion of witchcraft and threats of the occult permeate Shakespeare’s canon, from Macbeth all the way to Henry VI, Part 2, reflecting the fear of witches that gripped Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is based on actual accounts of Germany’s Würzburg witch trials that occurred during this time.

About the author: Rivka Galchen
From her page on

Rivka Galchen sits against a white brick wall with one hand in her hairRivka Galchen received her MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, having spent a year in South America working on public health issues. Galchen completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. Her essay on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics was published in The Believer, and she is the recipient of a 2006 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Galchen lives in New York City. She is the author of the novels Atmospheric Disturbances and Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch.

Meet our Bookshop Partner: Politics and Prose

This month, we are thrilled to once again partner with our friends at Politics and Prose, DC’s premiere independent bookstore devoted to cultivating community and strengthening the common good through books, programs, and a respectful exchange of ideas. Learn more at

Orders can be placed online, or at any of the locations throughout DC—Connecticut Avenue NW, The Wharf, and Union Market—which are open to customers. Click here for more information about curbside pickup and current safety protocols.

You can also purchase an ebook version of this title, or download the audiobook version from

Make a plan to join us on Thursday, October 7 to discuss Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. Visit our website to register and stay tuned for additional Folger resources to enrich the conversation.

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program: