As a novelist, journalist, editor, teacher and actor, Wayzata native Anne Marie Ruff Grewal has spent most of her life capturing ideas and shaping them into stories that have won the hearts of audiences across the globe.
“Growing up in Wayzata, I quite literally learned to write at Widsten Elementary, which no longer exists,” Ruff says. “I remember playing on the playground with an incredible view of Lake Minnetonka.”
Ruff decided to become a writer at age 14. “I wrote a letter to myself while sitting in art class at Wayzata West Junior High,” Ruff remembers. “I forgot that for many years, while I wandered through college. But in my late 20s, I remembered, and I have made my living as a writer in all kinds of different ways.”
After many years away, living in Los Angeles and traveling the world, Ruff returned to the Wayzata area last year, settling into the Minnesota lifestyle with her husband and two sons. “We have settled less than a mile from my mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in. I am biking again on County Road 6 and now I ride with my children into Wayzata,” she says.
“I have traveled and lived around the world and am now less than a mile from where I grew up. But I see it with completely different eyes,” she explains. “I have brought an explorer’s perspective to what could have been familiar terrain, and that perspective reveals an astonishingly fresh and beautiful place.”
As a journalist, Ruff covered global stories on the environment, agriculture, drug development, AIDS research, biotechnology, traditional medicine, the international coffee trade and travel writing.
Her latest novel, Beneath the Same Heaven: a story of love and terrorism, is a love story about an American woman and a Pakistani-born Muslim man. When the man’s father is killed by a US drone attack near the Afghan border, their multicultural family must cope with conflicting ideas. With candor, beauty, and insight, the story reveals how decent people can justify horrific acts, and the emotional power required to heal. “This is a book about terrorism, but told from a very personal, intimate perspective,” Ruff says. “This is not an action thriller, or a masculine tale of intrigue. This story looks deeply at why someone would commit a terrorist act, and comes to the surprising understanding that love and a desire for justice can motivate a terrorist. In this story, the terrorist is not a dehumanized ‘other’ from a barbaric culture, but a relatable man, a husband to a mainstream American woman and the father of their children.”
This is a fictional book, and a completely fictional scenario. But to tell this story, Ruff has drawn deeply from her own experience of marrying a man whose culture and beliefs are very different from her own. On September 11, 2001, Ruff was in a nightclub in Bangkok, dancing with the man who would become her husband—he from another culture and another religion. When the lights came up, the TV screens in the club showed news of the attacks. “After he and I married, we realized that we had grown up with different ideas of justice and how to achieve it,” Ruff says. “So this story explores what happens to love when two seemingly irreconcilable systems of justice collide in a worst case scenario. Beneath the Same Heaven is my attempt to answer the questions, What drives good and loving people to act in reprehensible ways? And can those people remain good and loving?”
Ruff also finds that her daily morning walks in the woods inspire her. And in the last year, she has developed a passion for photographing the wonders that she notices out in nature. “I take great pleasure in sharing my view of the woods—especially the tiny plants and animals that we often overlook—on my Instagram feed (@homesteadgrewallove). I think the next book might develop from those images,” Ruff says.
While Ruff says it’s hard to pinpoint one piece of writing that has inspired her, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle made an indelible impression on her when she was a child.
“The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie is the best novel I have ever read, as it seems to cover every possible human relationship,” Ruff says. “Also, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde helped me understand the role of art in the world and the role of my writing in my own life.”
Learn more at annemarieruff.com.
Beneath the Same Heaven is also available at amazon.com.