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Two-time National Book Award winner to speak in Humanities Lecture Series

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

LAWRENCE— Author and MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" recipient Jesmyn Ward will speak at two events this month as part of the University of Kansas Hall Center Humanities Lecture Series.

Ward will give a lecture at 7:30 p.m. April 11 at Liberty Hall, 642 Massachusetts St., with a book-signing to follow. At 10 a.m. April 12, "Conversation with Jesmyn Ward" will take place in the Hall Center Conference Hall on the KU campus. Both events are free and open to the public, but tickets are required for the April 11 event.

In 2017, Ward became the first woman and the first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction. She was recognized with the "Genius Grant" for her work “exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African-Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential.” In 2018, she was recognized among Time's 100 Most Influential People.

Ward received her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood Awards for her fiction, essays and drama. She held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University from 2008-2010 and served as the Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi the following year. She currently teaches creative writing at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Ward’s stories are largely set on the Gulf Coast where she grew up and still lives. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Ward was forced to evacuate her rapidly flooding home. Her writing is deeply informed by the trauma of Katrina, not to mention its unimaginable social and economic repercussions. Her novel "Salvage the Bones," winner of the 2011 National Book Award, is a troubling but ultimately empowering tale of familial bonds set amid the chaos of the hurricane.

A singular Southern odyssey that strikes at the heart of life in the rural South, "Sing, Unburied, Sing," earned Ward a second National Book Award in 2017. A road novel through Mississippi’s past and present, "Sing, Unburied, Sing" explores the bonds of a family tested by racism and poverty. Margaret Atwood called it a “wrenching new novel… that digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must!” It was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2017 by The New York Times.

In her talks, Ward shares her writing process and how her experiences growing up poor and black in the South continue to influence her work. As she stated in her acceptance speech at the 2011 National Book Awards, “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the black and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.”

Founded in 1947, the Humanities Lecture Series is the oldest continuing series at KU. More than 150 eminent scholars from around the world have participated in the program, including author Salman Rushdie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Recent speakers have included Neil Gaiman, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Zadie Smith. Shortly after the program’s inception, a lecture by one outstanding KU faculty member was added to the schedule. For more information on the series, visit the Hall Center website.