“I don’t mind expressing my opinions and speaking out against injustice. I would be doing this even if I wasn’t a writer. I grew up in a household that believed in social justice. I have always understood myself as having an obligation to stand on the side of the silenced, the oppressed, and the mistreated.”
Over the course of her award-winning career, Tayari Jones’s novels and essays have explored the vagaries of birth and fate, the bitterness of injustice, and the persistent power of love. With her most recent novel, the instant New York Times bestseller An American Marriage, she “has emerged as one of the most important voices of her generation” (Essence).
In this “moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple” (Barack Obama, on selecting the novel for his summer reading list), Jones introduces us to Celestial and Roy, a newlywed couple standing on the threshold of the American Dream. When Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, their lives implode. And when his conviction is overturned five years later, both must navigate the unimaginable fallout of their enforced estrangement.
“Tayari Jones is a bard of the modern South, a writer whose skill at weaving stories is matched only by her compassion for her characters. While An American Marriage confronts thorny issues around race and the criminal justice system it is, at heart, a love story. It’s also a meditation on the creation of art, the meaning of family and the conflict between duty and desire. Jones has crafted a complex, layered story that’s both intimate and broad, a literary page-turner that’s impossible to put down.”
—The Los Angeles Times
An Oprah’s Book Club Selection, An American Marriage was named a notable book by The New York Times and The Washington Post and was included on Obama’s end-of-2018 roundup. So far this year it has been awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), the Aspen Words Prize, and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction. It has been published in over 20 countries, with more than half a million copies in print domestically.
A native of Atlanta, Jones is drawn to thorny coming-of-age stories set in the New South. In the tradition of writers from Flannery O’Connor to Jesmyn Ward, she evokes her setting as vividly as her characters. The Los Angeles Times notes that “Jones gives readers a sense of place in a deeply observed way” while The Village Voice said the author “is fast defining black middle-class Atlanta the way that Cheever did for Westchester.”
Jones’s first novel, Leaving Atlanta, is a coming-of-age novel that echoes a few key notes of the author’s upbringing. Set against the backdrop of the Atlanta child murders of 1979–1981, it won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction.
Her follow-up, The Untelling, won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 2005. It in, Jones brings us Aria, a survivor of family tragedy who is keeping an intimate secret from her devoted boyfriend and her best friend. The truth behind her secret will challenge Aria’s every assumption and send her reeling into a life she never anticipated.
“Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when.”
—The Washington Post
Silver Sparrow, Jones’s third novel is “a tense, layered and evocative tale” (The Minneapolis Star-Tribune) that opens with the impossible-to-forget line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” Set in middle-class Atlanta in the 1980s, Silver Sparrow is about two families–one public, one secret–and their inevitable collision. O, The Oprah Magazine called Silver Sparrow “a love story…full of perverse wisdom and proud joy,” while Judy Blume wrote, “Silver Sparrow will break your heart before you even know it. Tayari Jones has written a novel filled with characters I’ll never forget.” The novel was added to the NEA Big Read library of classics in 2016.
Jones’s next novel, Old Fourth Ward (Knopf, forthcoming), will tell the story of a woman grappling with the idea of home, family and identity. When Jaybird Alexander faces a threat from a dangerous boyfriend, she reunites with her absent father who brings her home to live with him. After her mother relocates to Atlanta to be near her daughter, Jaybird soon has two mothers—a biological one living in a dilapidated house in the Old Fourth Ward and a stepmother in the affluent neighborhood of Cascade Heights. Years later, when sudden tragedy strikes Jaybird, she gets two phone calls from both mothers urge her to “come home”.
“Tayari Jones is blessed with vision to see through to the surprising and devastating truths at the heart of ordinary lives, strength to wrest those truths free, and a gift of language to lay it all out, compelling and clear.”
—Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Jones, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, has also earned a United States Artist Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship, and a fellowship from the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Time, Tin House, and The Believer, among other places.
She is a graduate of Spelman College, the University of Iowa, and Arizona State University, and is currently a Charles Howard Candler Professor at Emory University and A.D. White Professor At Large at Cornell University. In her talks at campuses, libraries, and literary festivals across the country, Jones speaks on her many books, her life and career, and the South.
For more on Tayari Jones, please visit tayarijones.com.