5 Reasons to See Jesmyn Ward

We can think of many reasons why you should join SAL on Wednesday, January 17 to see Jesmyn Ward, the lyrical Southern author gracing all of 2017’s best-of book lists, but here are our top five:

By: Emmy Newman, SAL Intern

1. She writes close to home. Jesmyn Ward’s two National Book Award-winning novels, Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) are set in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Modeled after Ward’s hometown of DeLisle, Ward has written herself into the tradition of authors like William Faulkner and his fictionalized world of Yoknapatawpha County. “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,” Ward told the audience at the ceremony for her latest National Book Award win. While her writing pays homage to Ward’s hometown, her books hit home for thousands of readers with their themes of fragility and strength, and beauty standing shoulder-to-shoulder with death.

2. She has a genre for every reader. In addition to literary gold stars for her prodigious fiction skill, Ward has proven her prowess as a nonfiction writer and editor. In Men We Reaped (2013), Ward remembers the deaths of five young black DeLisle men in her life over a four-year period. While the men were killed by seemingly disparate causes, including car accidents, suicide, and murder, Ward’s storytelling weaves their lost lives together into a larger narrative of systemic racism and rural poverty in Southern black communities. “Ward capably, sensitively covers many important subjects—from the fragility of African-American manhood, to the expectations of familial responsibility, to the difficulties of living in both the white and black worlds,” writes Richard Torres for NPR. Ward also served as the editor for the collection The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race (2016). Inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, the collected essays and poems explore black experiences in America—Kirkus Reviews calls its pieces “timely contributions to an urgent national conversation.” Read more…