University of South Alabama Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Jesmyn Ward has been named one of five finalists in the fiction category for the 2011 National Book Award, one of America’s highest literary honors.
The finalists in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature, will be announced during an awards dinner on Nov. 16 in New York. Prior recipients of the NBA Fiction Award include William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker and Philip Roth, among others.
“I’m so honored to be a finalist for the National Book Award; so many great writers whom I respect have been finalists,” Ward said. “The reception that “Salvage the Bones” has received has been both surreal and humbling.”
“Salvage the Bones” is the story of a young African-American girl named Esch, her three brothers and their widowed father during the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in the fictional Mississippi Gulf Coast community of Bois Sauvage.
Publisher’s Weekly called the novel “poetic” and praised Ward’s skillful use of
the first-person narrator to give the story’s “cast of small lives a huge resonance.” Library Journal described it as “both beautiful and heartbreaking” and “excellent for book clubs.”
Oprah.com selected “Salvage the Bones” as a Book of the Week when it was released in September.
“A university builds academic prestige through the accomplishments of its faculty. Within the field of creative literature, there is no greater recognition than the National Book Award,” USA President Gordon Moulton said. “This is a great credit to Jesmyn Ward’s work, and we could not be more pleased to have her on our faculty.”
Dr. David Johnson, senior vice president for academic affairs, called Ward’s nomination “a tremendous honor for her and the University.”
“This recognition confirms that she is among America’s most gifted writers. We are extremely proud to have her on the faculty of USA’s outstanding program in creative writing,” Johnson said.
Dr. Andrzej Wierzbicki, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said: “The College is very fortunate to have a faculty member who is a writer of such caliber and recognition. Our students will benefit tremendously from her creative talent and her passion for writing.”
Ward, who joined the USA faculty in August, teaches classes in nonfiction writing at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Since I have read Professor Ward’s novel, I am not at all surprised that it is under consideration for the National Book Award,” said Dr. Steven Trout, chair of the department of English. “It is a superb work of fiction.”
Ward, a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, survived Hurricane Katrina in her home community of DeLisle, a place similar to the fictional Bois Sauvage.
Ward earned her undergraduate degree in English and a master’s degree in media studies and communication from Stanford University. She received her master’s of fine art in fiction from the University of Michigan. From 2008-2010, she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in the department of creative writing at Stanford, and from 2010 until her appointment at USA, she was the John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.
“Salvage the Bones” is Ward’s second novel. Her first novel, “Where the Line Bleeds,” was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection.