Becca Anderson, author of The Book of Awesome Women, has written a new blog post on the life and career of author Jesmyn Ward.
Although Jesmyn Ward was born in 1977 in Berkeley, California, she was raised in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received a BA in 1999, followed in 2000 by an MA in media studies, both from Stanford University. Soon after she received an MFA in creative writing in 2005 from the University of Michigan, she and her family had their home in DeLisle severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While working at the University of New Orleans, Ward had to commute daily through neighborhoods that had been destroyed by the hurricane. Continually reminded of the tragedy, she was unable to write creatively for three years; in 2008, just when she was about to give up on writing and enroll in a nursing program, her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was accepted for publication. It was quickly recognized as significant, and in 2009, it received a Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) Honor Award. Both her fiction and nonfiction are largely centered around the experience and struggles of Black individuals living in the rural Gulf Coast.
Her two later novels, Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), both won National Book awards for fiction. Between the publication of these two fiction works, her 2013 memoir Men We Reaped won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. Other recognition followed, including a MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize, among other accolades. Ward also edited The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race (2016), a modern analysis that carries into the present the concerns and observations of James Baldwin’s classic 1993 examination of racism in America. Ward is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.
When I was twelve years old, I looked in the mirror and I saw what I perceived to be my faults and my mother’s faults. These coalesced into a dark mark that I would carry through my life, a loathing of what I saw, which came from others’ hatred of me, and all this fostered a hatred of myself. I thought being unwanted and abandoned and persecuted was the legacy of the poor Southern Black woman. But as an adult, I see my mother’s legacy anew. I see how all the burdens she bore, the burdens of her history and identity and of our country’s history and identity, enabled her to manifest her greatest gifts. My mother had the courage to look at four hungry children and find a way to fill them. My mother had the strength to work her body to its breaking point to provide for herself and her children. My mother had the residence to cobble together a family from the broken bits of another. And my mother’s example teaches me other things: This how a transplanted people survived a holocaust and slavery. This is how Black people in the South organized to vote under the shadow of terrorism and the noose. This is how human beings sleep and wake and fight and survive. In the end, this is how a mother teaches her daughter to have courage, to have strength, to be resilient, to open her eyes to what it is, and to make something of it.
Jesmyn Ward, from Men We Reaped: A Memoir
The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever
Crime and punishment. During his life and even after his death, Captain William Kidd’s name was well known in England and the American colonies. He was infamous for the very crime for which he was hanged, piracy. Rebecca Simon dives into the details of the two-year manhunt for Captain Kidd and the events that ensued. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701, followed by a massive British-led hunt for all pirates during a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy. Ironically, public executions only increased the popularity of pirates. And, because the American colonies relied on pirates for smuggled goods such as spices, wines, and silks; pirates tended to be protected from capture.