University of South Alabama Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Jesmyn Ward is the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for fiction.
Ward accepted the prestigious award after it was announced tonight at a dinner held in New York City. The fiction prize, which has been called “publishing’s version of the Academy Awards,” has been won previously by such literary giants as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker and Philip Roth, among others.
After accepting the award, Ward told the audience that she wrote her novel shortly after the death of her younger brother.
“I wanted to do something here that had meaning, and I wanted to do something that honored him,” she said. She added that is why she decided to write about a lower-income African-American family dealing with the disaster of Katrina.
Ward won for her novel “Salvage the Bones,” the story of a young African-American girl, her three brothers and their widowed father during the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in the fictional Mississippi Gulf Coast community of Bois Sauvage.
“The University of South Alabama is thrilled that Jesmyn Ward’s work has been acknowledged through one of the greatest honors in creative literature, the National Book Award,” USA President Gordon Moulton said. “She is representative of the many dedicated faculty at USA who enhance the institution’s academic prestige by enriching the lives of our students through their teaching and enriching the world through their scholarly and creative accomplishments.”
Ward began teaching creative nonfiction at the University in August. She is a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast where she survived Hurricane Katrina in her home community of DeLisle, a place similar to the fictional Bois Sauvage.
“Salvage the Bones,” which was released in September to critical acclaim, was selected by Oprah.com as a Book of the Week.
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.