"An Evening with Jesmyn Ward"
June 19, 2021
Presented in partnership with the Department of English Visiting Writer Series
MacArthur “Genius” Jesmyn Ward is described as the standout writer of her generation. The first woman and the first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction—joining the ranks of Faulkner, Bellow, Cheever, Roth, and Updike—Ward’s novels Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011) build deep empathy for the human condition. Described as “the new Toni Morrison” by Betsy Burton of the American Booksellers Association, Ward’s stories are largely set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives, and her writing is deeply informed by the trauma of Hurricane Katrina.
Ward comes to the Moss Arts Center to discuss her writing process and how her experiences have shaped her work.
Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, delves into the five years of Ward’s life in which she lost five young men—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that follows poor people and people of color. Lauded by Kirkus Reviews as a “modern rejoinder to Black Like Me [and] Beloved," Men We Reaped is a beautiful and painful homage to Ward’s ghosts and the haunted yet hopeful place she calls home. Men We Reaped won the Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Ward is the also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, which NPR named one of the Best Books of 2016. Taking James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping-off point, this groundbreaking collection features essays and poems about race from the most important voices of our time—including Edwidge Danticat, Natasha Trethewey, Isabel Wilkerson, Mitchell S. Jackson, Kiese Laymon, and Claudia Rankine.
Currently associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward delivered a stirring commencement speech for the university in 2018 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. Those words are now in book form. Beautifully illustrated in full color by Gina Triplett, Navigate Your Stars inspires readers as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives.
In September of last year, Vanity Fair published a moving essay from Ward addressing her feelings of grief following her husband’s death, the coronavirus pandemic, and racial injustices happening across the United States.
This is Ward's first performance at the Moss Arts Center.
This performance is supported in part by a gift from Ms. Ann Goette.