Author │ Novelist │ Memoirist
Jesmyn Ward, whose novel Salvage the Bones
won the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction, has been called “fearless and toughly lyrical” (The Library Journal). 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” (The Boston Globe) and “hugeness of heart” (O: The Oprah Magazine). Ward's precise and graceful narratives make her a fitting heir to the rich literary tradition of the American South.
For Ward, her prose is personal. Salvage the Bones
and her well-received debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds
(2008), are set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where Ward grew up and still makes her home. Shortly after Ward received her MFA, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, and Ward and her family were forced to evacuate their rapidly-flooding home. Later, as a professor at the University of New Orleans, Ward drove to and from work through neighborhoods leveled by the storm. Her experiences in the communities most egregiously affected by the hurricane come through in her novels, which subtly blend the creative and the personal, the imagined and the remembered.
In Salvage the Bones
, Ward gives us the Batiste family: Esch, a pregnant fourteen-year-old, her teenage brothers, and their alcoholic father, who are watching Hurricane Katrina brew over the Gulf. Set in the twelve days immediately surrounding the arrival of the hurricane, Salvage the Bones
is at its heart the story of four motherless children, trying to protect their home and one another against unimaginable disruption. Drawing on her own experiences as a survivor of Katrina, Ward offers a troubling but ultimately empowering tale of familial bonds in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Where the Line Bleeds
, the novel that introduced Ward's powerful poetic voice, is the story of twins Joshua and Christophe DeLisle (their surname is also the name of Ward's hometown). Raised by their adoring grandmother, Joshua and Christophe have just graduated from high school and have elected to stay in their tiny Gulf Coast town. In the wake of Katrina, however, jobs are few and far between; Joshua finds work on the docks, but Christophe begins selling drugs. Ward inhabits this world—Creole, desperately poor, riddled with frustrations and the drugs used to drown them—without a trace of irony or discomfort. Like Salvage the Bones
, Where the Line Bleeds
depicts “a world full of despair but not devoid of hope” (Publishers Weekly).
Jesmyn Ward received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood Awards for her fiction, essays, and drama. She held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University from 2008-2010, and served as the Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi during the following year. Ward currently teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Alabama in Mobile. In addition to the National Book Award, Salvage the Bones
was honored with the American Library Association's Alex Award. Ward received the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award for Where the Line Bleeds, which was also a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Where the Line Bleeds
was also an Essence magazine Book Club Selection, and was honored by the Black Caucus of the National Book Award.
An active blogger whose nonfiction is as compelling as her novels, Ward is the author of an upcoming memoir, Men We Reaped
about the loss of her brother and other young black men in their hometown. In her talks, Ward shares her writing process and how her experiences growing up poor and black in the South continue to influence her work. As Ward said in her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards, “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.” For more information, visit her blog at jesmimi.blogspot.com
- Men We Reaped (Bloomsbury USA, forthcoming 2013)
- Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA, 2011)
- Where the Line Bleeds (Agate Bolden, 2008)
2012 ALA Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award for Young Adult Readers Winner, Salvage the Bones
2011 National Book Award Winner, Salvage the Bones
2009 Black Caucus of the National Book Awards Winner, Where the Line Bleeds
2009 Essence Book Club Selection, Where the Line Bleeds
2009 Finalist, Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award, Where the Line Bleeds
2009 Finalist, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Where the Line BleedsMedia
Interview with Fox News:
The Interview: Author Jesmyn Ward
Onstage Conversation at the New York Public Library's LIVE from NYPL Series: