Described as “the new Toni Morrison” by the American Booksellers Association, MacArthur “Genius” and two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward comes to the Moss Arts Center to discuss her writing process and how her experiences have shaped her work on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. 

Presented in partnership with the Department of English Visiting Writer Series, the event will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Providing a voice that is much needed in the current climate, Ward is described as the standout writer of her generation. The first woman and the first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction — joining the ranks of Faulkner, Bellow, Cheever, Roth, and Updike — Ward’s novels “Sing, Unburied, Sing” (2017) and “Salvage the Bones” (2011) build deep empathy for the human condition.

Ward’s stories are largely set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives, and her writing is deeply informed by the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. Her memoir, “Men We Reaped,” delves into the five years of Ward’s life in which she lost five young men to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that follows poor people and people of color. The work won the Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Ward is the also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race,” which NPR named one of the Best Books of 2016. Taking James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, “The Fire Next Time,” as a jumping-off point, this groundbreaking collection features essays and poems about race from the most important voices of our time — including Edwidge Danticat, Natasha Trethewey, Isabel Wilkerson, Mitchell S. Jackson, Kiese Laymon, and Claudia Rankine.

Her newest novel, the critically acclaimed “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” won the 2017 National Book Award and was named one of the best books of 2017 by The New York Times, Time, The Washington Post, and Publisher’s Weekly. The novel was also nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize.

Currently associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward delivered a stirring commencement speech for the university in 2018 about the value of hard work and the importance of respect for oneself and others. Speaking about the challenges she and her family overcame, Ward inspired everyone in the audience with her meditation on tenacity in the face of hardship. Those words are now in book form. “Navigate Your Stars” inspires readers as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives.

In September of last year, Vanity Fair published a moving essay from Ward addressing her feelings of grief following her husband’s death, the coronavirus pandemic, and racial injustices happening across the United States.

In her introduction to “The Best American Short Stories 2021,” Ward wrote, “Throughout this terrible pandemic year…we clung to story. Story sustained us, and we gripped the planks of narrative so that in the immersion into story, we might have togetherness and hope and drama and laughter and beauty, might revel in all that binds us as human.”

This performance is supported in part by a gift from Ms. Ann Goette.

Related engagement event

During her visit, Ward will meet privately with Virginia Tech students with the Ujima living-learning community, the Department of English, and the Black Cultural Center for an informal discussion about her work.

Ticket information

Tickets for the performance are $25 for general admission and $10 for Virginia Tech students. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

The Moss Arts Center adheres to the guidelines of the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Tech in its operations, including protocols for face coverings and cleaning and sanitation. In accordance with current university policy for indoor events, all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to the Moss Arts Center are required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. 

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street for $5. Payment must be made in cash at the time of entry. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Virginia Tech has also partnered with ParkMobile to provide a convenient, contactless electronic payment option for parking, which may be used at any parking meter, campus parking space, or lot with standard F/S, C/G, or R parking.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Jonathan Boulter at least 10 days prior to the event at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours.

Written by Susan Bland