Two years ago, I met Jesmyn Ward just after she’d won the National Book Award for her second novel, Salvage the Bones. Up until then, she and her publisher had had a hard time getting the mainstream literary media to take a look at her work—a situation that’s happily improved for her new memoir, Men We Reaped.
In this episode of Life Stories, we talk about why Ward says writing this memoir, which is not just about her life but about the deaths of five young men in the poverty-stricken Mississippi community where she grew up, was the hardest thing she’s ever done, and how one of the greatest opportunities of her life—when one of the men for whom Ward’s mother worked as a maid agreed to pay her tuition at a good private school, setting her on the path to college—also put her in the direct path of some of the worst, most overt racism she’s ever faced (although perhaps not, she observes, as insidious as the systematic racism her brother dealt with in the public school system). And she explains why she hopes her infant daughter will find the world improved when she comes of age…
(Note: When Ward discusses the racism of her high school classmates, she does so with total frankness. I have chosen not to censor her use of a certain word, because it accurately reflects the ugliness and hatred directed at her. I expect hearing that word will offend some of you, but the world Ward describes is real, and ignoring it isn’t going to make it disappear.)
Listen to Life Stories #44: Jesmyn Ward (MP3 file); or download this file directly by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). You can also subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released.
7 October 2013 | life stories |