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Jesmyn Ward

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Beowulf Sheehan

Jesmyn Ward is the author of four novels––Where the Line Bleeds (2008), Salvage the Bones (2011), Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), and Let Us Descend (2023); a memoir, Men We Reaped (2013); Navigate Your Stars (2020), adapted from a 2018 commencement speech at Tulane University; and the editor of The Fire This Time (2016). Born in Berkeley, California, she moved at three to Mississippi. She earned a BA and an MA in Media Studies and Communication from Stanford University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood Awards for her fiction, essays, and drama. After her family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she taught at the University of New Orleans. In 2008, as she was about to give up writing and enroll in a nursing program, her novel Where the Line Bleeds was published, was picked as a book club selection by Essence, and received a Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Award. After two years as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford from 2008-2010, her second novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award and the Alex Award. Her 2013 memoir Men We Reaped dealt with the death of her brother, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2020, and four other black men in her hometown who had lost their lives. In 2017, she was awarded a McArthur Foundation Genius Grant and published her third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, which won her a second National Book Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Her edited collection The Fire This Time was named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR. Her most recent book, the historical novel Let Us Descend, was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. In 2016, Ward received the Strauss Living Award, given every five years by the American Academy of Arts & Letters for literary excellence; and in 2022 she won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Ward teaches creative writing at Tulane University and is at work on two books––an adult novel set in New Orleans at the height of the American slave trade, and a young adult novel about a young Black girl from the South with supernatural powers.

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