2014 KEYNOTE SPEAKER

      2011 National Book Award Winner

      Jesmyn Ward
      Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury, 2011)

      "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."
       _____________________________________________________

 

 

Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction, will be the keynote speaker at the 2014 Townsend Prize award ceremony.

SUMMARY OF LITERARY WORKS

Ward is a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast who by the age of twelve knew she wanted to be a writer. In the past seven years she has penned two award-winning novels and a critically acclaimed memoir that have given readers unflinching insight into the lives of young African-American men and women branded by the ravages of poverty and racism, with some able to eclipse the despair of their harrowing circumstances.

Where the Line Bleeds, Agate Publishing (2008)

Drawing upon her experiences as a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Ward's debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, and its follow-up, Salvage the Bones (for which she won the National Book Award) use the deadly storm as a backdrop and motif against which the worlds of her characters take shape. In Where the Line Bleeds, impoverished twins Joshua and Christophe DeLisle ( their surname is also the name of Ward's hometown) are recent high-school graduates struggling to make a living for themselves and their blind grandmother in the wake of Katrina. Jobs are few and far between in their tiny, rural town of Bois Sauvage, and while one brother finds respectable employment on the docks, the other finds work of a more illicit nature on the streets, causing tension between the two.

The reappearance of the twins' long-estranged addict father prompts an unexpected confrontation between himself and his sons, and brings the story to it powerfully climactic end. Praised for its "lyrical, yet clear-eyed portrait of a rural South and an African-American reality that are rarely depicted" (The Boston Globe), Where the Line Bleeds "makes palpable [Ward's] 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" (Agate Publishing).

Salvage the Bones, Bloomsbury (2011)

The town of Bois Sauvage, modeled after the community in which Ward grew up and still resides, returns as the setting of the author's second book, Salvage the Bones. This novel takes place in the twelve days immediately surrounding the arrival of Katrina and introduces readers to the Batiste family: Esch, a pregnant 14-year-old; her teenage brothers, Randall, Skeetah, and Junior; and their alcoholic father; all striving to protect their home and one another against unimaginable disruption.

A "taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written" (The New York Times), Salvage the Bones comes across on one level as a simple story about the simple lives of a poor black family living amongst pit bulls, chickens, and abandoned cars, while on another deftly "winds private passions with that menace gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico" to evoke "the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy" (The Washington Post).

Men We Reaped, Bloomsbury (2013)

Stepping away from the self-described "imaginative amalgamations" of reality embodied in her fictional characters, Ward stands squarely in the arena of her own human suffering and loss in her breathtaking memoir Men We Reaped. Defined as a "study of life in the margins—of society, of dry land against the bayou, of law" (Kirkus Reviews), Ward details the deaths of her younger brother, Joshua, and five other young men, seemingly unrelated, but all linked by "the pall of blighted opportunity, a lack of education, and a circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Mississippi" (Publishers Weekly).

Threading her family history and conflicting emotions about home through the loving profiles of each of the young men's short lives, Ward's "memoir-cum-social observation" (Library Journal) gives readers "a modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved, and other stories of struggle and redemption" (Kirkus Reviews). Says Ward: "My hope is that the people who read this book and encounter me at a younger age, and members of my family, will really sympathize with us and really see us as human beings. And, hopefully, [the book] will change the tone of the conversation."

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENTS

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 has taught at the University of Michigan, the University of New Orleans, and Stanford University. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Alabama in Mobile.

LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS

Men We Reaped, Bloomsbury (2013)

● Ranked as one of Publishers Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2013

Salvage the Bones, Bloomsbury (2011)

● Nominee for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (2013)
● Winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association (2012)
● Finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award (2012)
● Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize (2012)
● Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction (2011)

Where the Line Bleeds, Agate Publishing (2008)

● Fiction Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (2009)
● Finalist for the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award (2009)
● Finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (2009)