Black novelist Ward ‘overjoyed’ by MacArthur win
NEW ORLEANS: An AfricanAmerican novelist praised for her raw and powerful depictions of poor AfricanAmericans confronting racial and economic inequalities in the rural South said Wednesday that winning a MacArthur fellowship gives her time and freedom.
“I think those are the two most important gifts you can give to an artist,” Jesmyn Ward said in a video Wednesday from Tulane University, where she is a professor. “So I am deeply humbled and also overjoyed.”
Hours earlier, the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced she was among 24 recipients of the so-called genius grants, which bestow $625,000 on each winner over five years.
Ward was the 2011 recipient of the National Book Award for her second novel, “Salvage the Bones,” about the struggles of a poor African-American family in her native Mississippi, set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina’s strike on the Gulf Coast.
The author grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi , a community of about 1,100 residents where more than a third live below the poverty line. Her three novels to date have been set in a fictional Mississippi coastal town called Bois Sauvage.
Now 40, Ward said she is currently working on a novel set in early 1800s New Orleans at the height of the domestic slave trade.
“It is a novel unlike anything that I have written ... I am a little nervous, afraid, but also aware of the fact that this novel will make me grow and evolve as a human being, and I am looking forward to that,” Ward said.
The MacArthur Foundation praised Ward as a “fiction writer exploring the bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans in the rural South.” It added she “captures moments of beauty, tenderness, and resilience against a bleak landscape of crushing poverty, racism, addition, and incarceration.”
The announcement also cited her portrayal in “Salvage the Bones” of the struggles of a poor family with teen pregnancy, a missed opportunity to attend college and other experiences. That book also was among recipients of the American Library Association’s Alex Award for adult books that appeal to teens.