The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Author Jesmyn Ward speaks about writing, Hurricane Katrina, and more


On Monday, February 9, writer Jesmyn Ward visited Chatham to speak to students about her experiences in both fiction and creative nonfiction writing. Ward came to Chatham as part of the Words Without Walls reading series, which is provided by A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation and Chatham University.

Ward received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. After college, she went to work at the University of New Orleans.

Ward is the author of two fiction novels—”Where the Line Bleeds,” and “Salvage the Bones”—and one memoir—”Men We Reaped.”

Her first novel, “Where the Line Bleeds,” which was published in 2008, received its fair share of acclaim. The novel received a Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Award and was picked by Essence Magazine as a Book Club Selection.

It follows the story of twin brothers Joshua and Christophe DeLisle, who recently graduated from high school. The book chronicles their choices during a transitional time in their lives.

Ward’s second novel, “Salvage the Bones,” looks again at the relationships between young black siblings growing up in the south. She received her most prestigious award to date with that novel: the 2011 National Book Award in the Fiction category. Ward also received an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association for the novel.

She says that “Salvage the Bones,” “was the book where [she] committed to telling the truth about where [she] came from.”

The book also looks into the lives of those affected by Hurricane Katrina, which Ward experienced first-hand. At her talk she shared her story of being in the hurricane, which included her grandmother’s house being flooded, taking shelter in a truck, and finally being shown kindness by complete strangers.

Ward published her memoir, “Men We Reaped,” in 2013. This was the topic of most of her Chatham talk and the question-and-answer portion.

The memoir looks at the lives of Ward’s brother and four other young men who lost their lives in the town in which she grew up. She spoke at length about her resistance when writing the book, saying, “I knew it was a story I was going to have to tell one day…but I didn’t want to.”

She went on to say that she feared her family would not accept the memoir should she write it, even saying that she was afraid her mother would disown her if she spoke honestly about what happened in her hometown.

Ward said, “Sometimes when you’re writing, someone needs to give you permission to write.” That permission came from her sisters, who encouraged her (and gave her the “permission” she needed) to write her story.

Even with the permission of her family, Ward had a hard time writing the memoir. During the question and answer portion, she said, “On every page, there was something where I would say…’I can’t believe I’m going to share that with the world.’”

The memoir made it onto the shortlist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography in 2013.

Ward currently teaches Creative Writing at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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