Jesmyn Ward, whose fiction is drawing comparisons to William Faulkner’s, received a new honor this week: her 2017 novel, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” will kick off a new book discussion led by the New York Times and the PBS NewsHour. Called Now Read This, the organizers hope to become a go-to resource for reading groups across the country.
Ward, the only woman to win a National Book Award twice for fiction, continues to live in rural Mississippi, the source of her family life and much of her inspiration. Born in 1977, Ward attended Stanford University and had decided in 2008 to turn away from the writing life and, at her mother’s urging, enroll in nursing school when Agate Publishing picked up her first novel, “Where the Line Bleeds.” It tells of two brothers on divergent paths and is set on the Gulf Coast. Ward followed this work with “Salvage the Bones,” arguably the best fiction to arise out of Hurricane Katrina. In 2014, Ward came to speak at the Cleveland Public Library, where she described her reading and writing and her strong identification with communities on the margins.
Last year, Ward received a no-strings $625,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. “I don’t shy away from tough topics,” she says on the foundation’s video, praising the Gulf, the bayous and the regional habits of storytelling.