Jesmyn Ward: Waiting for Katrina

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Jesmyn Ward
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Jesmyn Ward was an unknown novelist when her second book, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award in 2011. She’s recently written a memoir called The Men We Reaped that ended up on a lot of best-of 2013 lists.

Both books look at the rough parts of life in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In Salvage the Bones, Ward calls the town Bois Sauvage. The story takes place in 2005 and centers on Esch, a 15-year-old girl in a house full of boys and men. Over ten days leading up to Katrina, Esch and her brothers are preoccupied with their own serious dilemmas, while only their father — drunk and ineffectual — grasps the urgency of their peril. Ward’s own harrowing experience with Katrina inspired the book. When the storm hit her hometown of Delisle, Mississippi, Ward and her family had to escape a house filling with water so quickly they feared they would drown in the attic.

But it was a more familiar tragedy that made Ward the writer she is: a car accident that claimed the life of her younger brother. "He taught me an important lesson, that — it’s so clichéd but — we’re not promised anything, and we can die at any time ... What could I do with my life that if I did die in a month, or a year, or tomorrow, whenever, that I would feel that I’d lived a life worth living, and done something that makes me happy? ... And so I went against my better judgment, which told me that I should study for the LSAT and go to law school, and I decided to commit to writing.”

(Originally aired: October 28, 2011)


Bonus Track: Jesmyn Ward reads from Salvage the Bones

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