Hurricane Katrina & National Book Awards

I was more focused on reading and fiction writing a couple of years ago than I am now. Somewhere along the line I reached the negative point that recent National Book Award Winner, Jesmyn Ward, touches upon on her blog. Ward writes on rejection and preparing to give up on her passion in the blog excerpt below:

Whenever I speak to audiences about my fiction, inevitably I’m asked about rejection. How many times did you face rejection, they ask. And I tell them: many times. My first novel was dead in the water for 3 years, three years of submission and rejection, and I had exactly one story published during that time. I was working at the University of New Orleans during the years following Hurricane Katrina. Driving through New Orleans East for work, through that wasted landscape, the houses rotting and spray-painted, the empty streets, the waste from the flood still sitting where the water deposited it when it receded subdued me so thoroughly I didn’t write a new sentence for 3 years. Fine, I thought, I’ll shut up now. I told despair: You win. I began looking up the pre-requisite courses I’d need to enter a nursing program, began plotting my return to school, my leave from writing.

And then Doug Siebold of Agate Publishing said yes to Where the Line Bleeds. Two years later, my editor at Bloomsbury Publishing said yes to my second novel Salvage the Bones. And now, the folks at the National Book Foundation have said yes.

So many can tell you no, I tell my audience, but you only need one person to say yes.

If you haven’t heard recently, Jesmyn Ward’s book Salvage the Bones is the new National Book Award winner (can you say $10,000 award winner?). And for those of you who don’t know, well, here’s more on that book:

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family-motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce-pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

If you’re interested in other novels that involve Hurricane Katrina, be sure to take notice of Rosalyn Story’s Wading Home. It has excellent online reviews, if that counts.

When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, chef and widower Simon Fortier knows how he plans to face the storm–riding it out inside his long-time home in the city’s Treme neighborhood, just as he has through so many storms before. But when the levees break and the city is torn apart, Simon disappears. His son, Julian, a celebrated jazz trumpeter, rushes home to a New Orleans he left years before to search for his father. As Julian crisscrosses the city, fearing the worst, he reconnects with Sylvia, Simon’s companion of many years; Parmenter, his father’s erstwhile business partner and one of the most successful restaurateurs in New Orleans; and Velmyra, the woman Julian left behind when he moved to New York. Julian’s search for Simon deepens as he finds himself drawn into the troubled history of Silver Creek, the extravagantly beautiful piece of land where his father grew up, and closer once again to Velmyra. As he tries to come to grips with his father’s likely fate, Julian slowly gains a deeper, richer understanding of his father and the city he loved so much, while unraveling the mysteries of Silver Creek.

Pick up a book by an African American author on Katrina and its aftermath soon. Happy reading, y’all.

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