The "supremely gifted novelist" of Salvage the Bones on place, race, and poverty
“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young 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 higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
"Jesmyn Ward left her Gulf Coast home for education and experience, but it called her back. It called on her in most painful ways, to mourn. In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn unburies her dead, that they may live again. And through this emotional excavation, she forces us to see the problems of place and race that led these men to their early graves. Full of beauty, love, and dignity, Men We Reaped is a haunting and essential read."
–Natasha Trethewey, US Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner
"Jesmyn Ward is simply sui generis. I am reminded of Miles Davis’ quote: ‘Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there,’ after reading her memoir, Men We Reaped.This is one mighty virtuosic, bluesy hymn. Beautiful."
-- Oscar Hijuelos, author of Thoughts without Cigarettes
Los Angeles Times Book Review http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-0908-jesmyn-ward-20130908
Times Picayune http://www.nola.com/books/index.ssf/2013/09/jesymn_ward_talks_about_racism.html
Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the Univ. of Mississippi. She is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, for which she won the 2011 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the NYPL Young Lions Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, as well as a nominee for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
7:30 PM at the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar Street, Berkeley)
Tickets: $12 general, $8 students; $15 at the door
Brown Paper Tickets online or 800-838-3006