Jesmyn Ward

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Jesmyn Ward’s writing marries a devastating realism with a unique sensitivity to the long echoes of violence and trauma. Her National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones brought mythic resonance to the ordeal of a family from a town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the days just before and after the devastation of hurricane Katrina. Her new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing nods to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison with a tale of addiction, imprisonment, love and struggle — told by the living, the dying and by ghosts. In this episode, Miwa Messer talks with Jesmyn Ward about her electric fiction.

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In 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. Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Click here to see all books by Jesmyn Ward.

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