April – Jesmyn Ward

Book Club Selection (Meeting on May 2, 2024) – Sing, Unburied, Sing  (2017)

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Ward’s stories are largely set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives. In her writing, Ward shares her experiences growing up poor and Black in the South. “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the Black and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.” When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Ward was forced to evacuate her rapidly flooding home. Her writing is deeply informed by the trauma of Katrina, not to mention its unimaginable social and economic repercussions. Winner of the MacArthur “Genius Grant” and two National Book Awards, Jesmyn Ward has been hailed as the standout writer of her generation, proving her “fearless and toughly lyrical” voice in novels, memoir, and nonfiction. Betsy Burton of the American Booksellers Association has called her “the new Toni Morrison.” In 2017, she became the first woman and the first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction—joining the ranks of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth, and John Updike.

Jesmyn Wards’s major works include:

Let Us Descend (2023)
Navigate Your Stars (2020)
Sing, Unburied, Sing ( 2017)
The Fire This Time:
A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016)
Men We Reaped (2013)
Salvage the Bones (2011)
Where the Line Bleeds ( 2008)

The creatives who have played a part in shaping her career, are an eclectic troupe.

William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Octavia Butler are the writers she cites as holding particular influence for her. Meanwhile, she considers Janelle Monae, Prince, and The Weeknd to have inspired her experience in the industry – “they have helped me see how to be an artist with their honesty and their creativity”.

What is the most-read book on her book shelf?

“ I remember how completely awed and inspired I was when I read it for the first time. All the characters are so multilayered and sympathetic, and the tragedy and comedy of their journey is riveting, every time.”

Jesmyn Ward grew up, lives and teaches in Mississippi –

“DeLisle, Mississippi, where I live. There are things that I dislike about it, certainly – I feel so strongly the weight of history here, of slavery and the Jim Crow South. It’s so easy to see how that history bears in the present through generational poverty, substance abuse, and bad health outcomes – but when I’m with my family or out on the bayou, there’s nowhere else I feel so connected to or have such a sense of belonging.”

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