Jesmyn Ward

“It’s Dangerous to Be a Young Black Male in the United States”: Jesmyn Ward on ‘Men We Reaped’ and Ferguson

Towards the end of Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, she discusses some of the statistics for “what it means to be Black and poor in the South.” The facts are stark: in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the union, where Ward grew up and lives today, 23% live below the poverty level; the median income is $34,473; studies have shown that poverty and lack of education can contribute to as many deaths as heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer in the US. The state ranks last in the nation on the UN’s Human Development index, which measures life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living. … Read More

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The 50 Best Southern Novels Ever Written

The American South has long been seen as the focus of the country’s Civil Rights Movement, carrying with it the stigma of poverty, racism, and anti-intellectualism. Yet the region has also produced a disproportionate number of intellectuals, poets, and writers, possibly because of the complicated and layered identities each Southerner holds within him- or herself. The South has begotten some of our nation’s most important authors, including prize winners like William Styron, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison, Harper Lee, and that titan of American letters, William Faulkner. These 50 novels are a reminder that the South cannot be defined solely by its failings; it is also responsible for shaping the minds of countless thinkers who offered to American literature essential insights about not only their region but the world at… Read More

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10 Recent Nonfiction Books to Read for Black History Month

Black History Month focuses on history, just like the name suggests. It also suggests, for some people, reading only older, classic books about the history of black people in the United States. Not that we’d ever discourage anyone from revisiting the classics, but there are many recent books worth reading on the matter of the “African-American experience,” however you choose to define that. Here are ten of our favorite recent memoirs, history books, and biographies that deal with the black experience in America. … Read More

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50 Novels Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person

It’s a new year, and resolutions are flying left and right. Here’s one that’s always on everyone’s mind, beginning of the year or no: how to be a better person. Well, since science keeps proving that reading literary fiction accomplishes that very fact, why not attack a novel in order to spruce up your heart and mind? Click through for 50 novels to make you kinder, cleverer, more productive, and a whole lot more open to the experience of… Read More

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20 Women Who Drove the Culture in 2013

So: not that the measure is scientific, but women had a weird year in the culture in 2013. For every ascendant pop diva, there was the inevitable fallout period where people argued endlessly about whether Miley/Beyoncé/etc. were too slutty or too unfeminist or too untalented. The taste left behind was, therefore, mixed. And as I went through to select women who answered to the “women driving the culture” rubric, I realized that to a large extent these women were still fighting to gain a place of leadership. Many of them are making their names in part on the ongoing debate about why it is, in 2013, that women still don’t get a fair shake in most cultural spheres — and this even as they tend to drive the money in this business. … Read More

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The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2013

2013’s bounty of long-form journalism, essay collections, biographies, history books, and memoirs covering a broad range of topics — from race and politics in America to unusual childhoods to the current Golden Age of television — has resulted in more than enough great nonfiction to choose from at the end of this year. These ten books merely scratch the surface of all the noteworthy nonfiction published in the last 12 months, but they also represent what we consider the best of the… Read More

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50 Books That Define the Past Five Years in Literature

Five years ago this month saw the publication of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 in English. The book topped almost every year-end list and signaled a shift in literary tastes, creating larger audiences for works in translation, historical storylines, and narrative complexity. Between the uncertain future of the publishing industry, the rise of indie presses, new literary magazines, and the Internet and ereaders, the years that followed were bittersweet for the book industry but also a unique and fruitful time for readers. The following 50 books provide several clues as to why that is, and also give a glimpse into the future of… Read More

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Why Aren’t More People Talking About Jesmyn Ward’s ‘Men We Reaped’?

This past summer, America had a long conversation with itself about its pervasive culture of violence, a culture that often literally consumes the lives of young black men. I’m not saying it was a satisfactory conversation, that anyone came out of it feeling like we’d treated the subject with respect. In fact, I’d say it was just the opposite. There was a lot of loud, loud, loud racist yelling on Fox News, thankfully countered by good and resourceful programming by Melissa Harris-Perry, but mostly the aftertaste was sour. Perhaps that explains why Jesmyn Ward’s new memoir, Men We Reaped, isn’t generating as much public discussion as I would have expected from a brilliant piece of work that also happened to be on point. … Read More

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10 Books That Sum Up The Contradictions of American Life

As we head towards the 237th birthday of the United States of America, last week’s news cycle and various political discussions have given us a whole new set of reasons to ponder the many contradictions that make our country the great and beautiful mess that it is. From high unemployment numbers to rampant violence to politicians arguing over our personal freedoms, there is more than enough to remind us how strange of a place America can be. While the jury is still out over whether the Great American Novel has been written or will be written, there are plenty of other books that can help us attempt to navigate through the weirdness that is… Read More

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