Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, Sing

” . . . I mean I mostly write about, you know, poor people, black people, Southerners. And those are the kind of people that make up my community. So those are the kind of people that I write about.” – Jesmyn Ward

I can’t say that I’ve read anything by Jesmyn Ward yet. I can’t even say I’ve read an excerpt from her memoir, Men We Reaped or the award-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. I do own Salvage the Bones, but I haven’t touched it.

You know I like book news, so I take note when a book or author is continuously put in front of me. Such is much easier to do with social media now days. Before this post, I didn’t know much about Sing, Unburied, Sing, beyond the obvious. After reading a few interview excerpts from Ward, the book might be another one of the list. When asked what influenced her story, Ward had this to say:

So, I knew from the very beginning that the characters would travel to Parchman Prison. And I knew nothing about Parchman Prison.

And so when I began to read about Parchman Prison Farm, I read that, in the 1940s, that kids, black boys, children as young as 12 were charged with petty crimes, like vagrancy or theft or loitering, and they were sent to Parchman Prison Farm, right, where they were basically reenslaved.

And I was so shocked by that fact and also horrified that I didn’t know about it beforehand. And I immediately felt very strongly for these children, right, who in some ways had been erased from history.

So I thought, well, I really want to write about a 12-year-old kid. You know, I really want to write a character who endured this, but who is able to interact with Jojo, who is able to have some sort of agency that that person didn’t have when they were alive.

And I figured out that the only way that I could do that was by making that character, this 12-year-old kid who had been to Parchman in the ’40s, making that character into a ghost. (Read more . . . )

One of the reviews I read for the novel notes that the subject matter is difficult for some readers to muster. The more I read about it, the more it sounds like my type of story.

d96ae08b049f1eb2c915b8a9717409f5Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Have you read anything by Jesmyn Ward yet?

Happy reading, y’all!

2 thoughts on “Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Add yours

  1. I read Sing, Unburied, Sing a couple months ago. So far, it’s the only book I’ve read by her and though I didn’t like it as much as everyone else, I would like to try another book for her. This story just wasn’t…compelling (I guess) to me. I couldn’t quite identify why exactly I wasn’t as excited about it.
    Sing, Unburied, Sing can be unsettling for some because of the somewhat graphic scene at the beginning and later the harsh treatment Jojo suffers from his mom. The story reminds me a lot of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in how the past haunts the present and history seems ever-present.


  2. Ward’s writing is beautiful, but this story didn’t grab me like “Salvage The Bones”. I kept waiting for the climax, but it never came.


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