Jesmyn Ward Returned to Oxford with “Sing, Unburied, Sing”

Jesmyn Ward introduced her new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing at Off Square Books last Monday on September 25th. She was joined in conversation with current John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writer in Residency, Catherine Lacey.

The story of Sing, Unburied, Sing zooms in on at the heart of one struggling African American family and their journey to bring their father home from the state penitentiary.

Similar to Salvage the Bones, the setting of Sing, Unburied, Sing takes place in “Bois Sauvage,” a fictional version of Ward’s home town. Ward noted that “she had personal reasons for choosing this setting,” especially because of the people who live there.

“I feel like the people I write about have been absent from the public imagination,” Ward said. “And I want to write against that, because I feel like when you’re absent from the public imagination then it’s very easy for louder voices to erase you or to tell their own stories about you and completely miscast you and misunderstand you.  And so I feel like my job, since I love this place and I love these people so much, is to push back against that and to write against that and to amplify their voices. ”

During her researching process, Ward discovered children like Richie in Sing, Unburied, Sing, who were thrown into prison for petty crimes such as loitering or stealing small items. These bits of research information and the inability for Ward to protect her characters from burdens ultimately caused her grief during the writing process.

After writing Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward said that she is now drawn to learning more about stories that have been erased throughout history and bringing them to light, such her next work in progress.

“The novel that I’m working on now is actually a novel that is set in New Orleans at the height of the domestic slave trade,” Ward said. “And if you would’ve told me this back when I was working on Salvage the Bones that this is where I’d be one day, I would’ve told you, ‘You’re full of crap.’”

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