Friday, December 2, 2011

National Book Award Winner

National Book Award Winner, Jesmyn Ward

In 2008, the book review magazine Kirkus Reviews published a short review of Jesmyn Ward’s first book, Where the Line Bleeds. The review said her book “serves up a world that has been little depicted: the rural African-American South, a place of grinding poverty but enduring loyalties, tragic but somehow noble at the same time.” It also called the book “[a] promising debut” (Kirkus Reviews link to be hyperlinked to ‘Kirkus Reviews’ above: ).

That promise was in part filled Wednesday evening November 16, 2011, when the winners of this year’s National Book Awards were announced at the Cipriani restaurant on Wall Street in New York, and Jesmyn Ward’s name was called for her new novel about life during Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones (book link in our catalog to be hyperlinked to “Salvage the Bones”{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVER ).

Ward’s reaction to the announcement was recorded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s blog, Speakeasy: “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my name had been called because the whole time I was sitting there thinking, okay, just breathe. Whatever is happening, just breathe through it” (WSJ Speakeasy link to be hyperlinked to ‘Speakeasy’ above: ).

Now that we have moved beyond the peak in activity on the internet generated by the announcement of this year’s National Book Award winners, it will be interesting to see how these writers – and more writing about them – develop. As of this writing, there is very little literature on a writer as new and young as Jesmyn Ward. But that will probably soon change.

With previous winners of this award including some of America’s greatest authors – i.e. William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo, and Jonathan Franzen – it is all the more remarkable that Jesmyn Ward grew up poor, and that she was the first member of her family to attend college. She learned her craft from reading the greats that came before her. In a recent Times-Picayune article ( ), she discusses the influence some of them had on her development.

In the speech she delivered after winning the award ( ), Jesmyn Ward reflected on life’s shortness and unpredictability. She says she chose to commit herself to writing because “I wanted to do something with my time here that would have meaning. To celebrate her accomplishment, the Library will display her books through the month of January in the company of some previous National Book Award winners.