Jesmyn Ward, whose 2011 novel Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award, will present her new memoir, Men We Reaped, at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at Octavia Books (513 Octavia St.).
Ward is the subject–and Men We Reaped the topic–of a lengthy and candid new profile by Chris Waddington at nola.com, which describes the book and what led Ward to write it. The memoir chronicles the deaths–and why Ward believes they took place–of five close family members and friends (one of which was her brother, whose signature she has tattooed on her wrist; see the video for more on that).
“I fought against writing this memoir for a long time,” Ward said. “I knew that I had a story to tell, but I lacked emotional distance on those deaths, which hit me and my family so hard when I was in my mid-20s. I was circling the truth about what it means to be poor and black in the rural South — what happens to black men, and what happens to black women. I also knew that I had to talk about my whole family; why my father left, why my mother endured, why some of us lived and others died. And I had to deal with my own guilt and a sense of worthlessness that no amount of scholarships and awards could cancel out.”
Ward was born in DeLisle, Mississippi, and went to school at Stanford, where she took part in that school’s prestigious Stegner Fellowship program. But rather than stay in the Bay, she returned to the Gulf Coast, where Waddington interviewed her at her home.
“I lived away from DeLisle for long stretches, but I have always come back,” Ward said. “Sometimes, I’m wistful about that. It would be nice to live in the Bay Area. It’s a beautiful, cultured place – and, at heart, I’m a book-loving hippie bohemian. But if California freed me, it also made me feel like an alien. DeLisle is my center. It’s where my stories start. And it’s the one place where my daughter can grow up in a big, rambunctious extended family with a deep sense of history.”
Predictably, a note by Waddington in the comments section that points out Ward’s direct confrontation of racism despite what he calls her “gentle spirit” prompted a reply from a half-witted caveman:
Guess the subject matter of being poor, black and living in the rural South is the main selling point of the work. Maybe someday someone will put pen to paper and elaborate what it is like to be poor, black, and live in the cosmopolitan North.
This, we’re guessing, is the type of reader at which a recent cover of T-P Street–the Times-Picayune‘s tabloid solution to remaining a “daily” paper–whose headline suggested that a six-year-old murder victim seduced her adult killer was aimed.
Take a moment to mourn the downfall of publishing, of society, of that six-year-old girl, of the men in Ward’s memoir, and then read Waddington’s profile in full at nola.com.