This is a lecture by Jesmyn Ward.
Jesmyn Ward has been called “fearless and toughly lyrical” by the Library Journal. Her novel Salvage the Bones, the story of four motherless children trying to protect their home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, won the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction. Her unflinching portrayals of young black men and women struggling to thrive in a South ravaged by poverty and natural disaster have been praised for their “graphic clarity” by the Boston Globe, and for their “hugeness of heart” by O, The Oprah Magazine.
Ward’s follow-up to Salvage was Men We Reaped, a memoir that confronts the five years of Ward’s life in which she lost five young men—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that follows people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Lauded by Kirkus as a “modern rejoinder to Black Like Me [and] Beloved,” Men We Reaped is a homage to Ward’s past, her ghosts, and the haunted yet hopeful place she still calls home. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, it was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, Kirkus, New York Magazine, and TIME magazine.
Ward is also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, which NPR listed as one of the Best Books of 2016. Taking James Baldwin’s 1963 pivotal examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, is a jumping-off point. The groundbreaking collection features essays and poems about race from the most important voices of Ward’s generation and our time—from Edwidge Danticat, Natasha Trethewey, and Isabel Wilkerson, to Mitchell S. Jackson, Kiese Laymon, and Claudia Rankine.
In the forthcoming Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward will return to Mississippi and the themes of her earlier work. Confronting the realities of life in the rural South, Ward gives us a road map through Mississippi’s past and present that explores the bonds of family as tested by racism and poverty. Her work is all set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi where Ward grew up, and each new publication makes her a fitting heir to the rich literary tradition of the American South.