Author bio

Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward - book author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Jesmyn Ward is the author of books: Sing, Unburied, Sing, Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, Where the Line Bleeds, Cattle Haul (Electric Literature's Recommended Reading Book 1), Spiewajcie, z prochow, spiewajcie, Navigate Your Stars, Untitled, Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves


Author books

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01
Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
02
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt, while brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel's framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel's heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, "Salvage the Bones" is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
03
'...And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.' Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth--and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue high education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.
04
National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time.

In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”

Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.

The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.

In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “postracial” society, is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about.
05
Set in a rural town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Where the Line Bleeds tells the story of fraternal twins Joshua and Christophe, who are graduating high school as the novel begins. The two boys both anticipate and dread their lives as adults. Joshua finds a job working as a dock laborer on the Gulf of Mexico, but Christophe has less luck: Unable to find a job, and desperate to alleviate his family’s poverty, he starts to sell drugs. Joshua does not approve, but his clumsy concern fractures the twins’ relationship. When their long-missing addict father reappears, he provokes a shocking confrontation between himself and the brothers—one that will ultimately damn or save them.

Where the Line Bleeds is unforgettable for the intense clarity of how the main relationships are rendered: the love but growing tension between the twins; their devotion to the slowly failing grandmother to raised them, and the sense of obligation they feel toward her; and most of all, the alternating pain, bewilderment, anger, and yearning they feel for the parents who abandoned them—their mother for a new life in the big city of Atlanta, and their father for drugs, prison, and even harsher debasements.

Jesmyn Ward herself grew up in a small Mississippi town near New Orleans, and this book makes palpable her deep knowledge and love of this world: black, Creole, poor, drug-riddled, yet shored by strong family ties and a sense of community that balances hope and fatalism, grief and triumph. Hers is an important new voice in American fiction, distinguished by its simple, patient, and utterly focused attentiveness to the physical details of her characters and their lives.
08
A revelatory, uplifting, and gorgeously illustrated meditation on dedication, hard work, and the power of perseverance from the beloved, New York Times bestselling, and two-time National Book Award–winning Jesmyn Ward.

For Tulane University’s 2018 commencement, Jesmyn Ward delivered a stirring speech about the value of hard work and the importance of respect for oneself and others. Speaking about the challenges she and her family overcame, Ward inspired everyone in the audience with her meditation on tenacity in the face of hardship. Now, in book form, Ward’s moving words will inspire readers as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives, whether, like Ward, they are the first in their families to graduate from college or are preceded by generations, or whether they are embarking on a different kind of journey later in life.

Beautifully illustrated in full color by Gina Triplett, this gorgeous and profound book will charm a generation of students—and their parents. Ward’s inimitable voice shines through as she shares her experience as a Southern black woman and addresses the themes of grit, adversity, and the importance of family bonds. Navigate Your Stars is a perfect gift for anyone in need of inspiration from the author of Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped, and Sing, Unburied, Sing.
09
An adult novel that "take[s] place at the peak of the American slave trade, and follows an enslaved woman sent south from the Carolinas to New Orleans, site of the country’s largest slave market." -Publishers Weekly
10
An inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl, on the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature.

Remember that moment when you first encountered a character who seemed to be written just for you? That feeling of belonging can stick with readers the rest of their lives--but it doesn't come around as frequently for all of us. In this timely anthology, "well-read black girl" Glory Edim brings together original essays by some of our best black female writers and creative voices to shine a light on how we search for ourselves in literature, and how important it is that everyone--no matter their gender, race, religion, or abilities--can find themselves there. Whether it's learning about the complexities of femalehood from Their Eyes Were Watching God, seeing a new type of love in The Color Purple, or using mythology to craft an alternative black future, each essay reminds us why we turn to books in times of both struggle and relaxation. As she has done with her incredible book-club-turned-online-community Well-Read Black Girl, in this book, Edim has created a space where black women's writing and knowledge and life experiences are lifted up, to be shared with all readers who value the power of a story to help us understand the world, and ourselves.

Contributors include: Jesmyn Ward (Sing Unburied Sing), Lynn Nottage (Sweat), Jacqueline Woodson (Another Brooklyn), Gabourey Sidibe (This Is Just My Face), Morgan Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing), Zinzi Clemmons (What We Lose), N. K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season), Tayari Jones (An American Marriage), Nicole Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun), Rebecca Walker (Black, White and Jewish), and more.