Black nov­el­ist Ward ‘over­joyed’ by MacArthur win

Arab News - - COFFEE BREAK -

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.

Jes­myn Ward

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