Lit's New 'It Girl': Tayari Jones
With her third novel, Silver Sparrow, the writer is kicking off a 40-city publicity tour -- unheard of for most novelists these days. The Root caught up with her to talk about bigamy and baby daddies and why it's an exciting time for black literary writers.
TJ: A lot of writers mine the experiences of their generation for subject matter. I am very interested in the lives of those of us who came of age post civil rights. And Atlanta is my hometown.
I really feel like the cultural rubber hits the road in the urban South. History is right there on the surface, but all the changes that happen in the country are layered right over that history. My first novel, Leaving Atlanta, is about growing up during the child murders. That's history that impacted ordinary lives. And even in Silver Sparrow, Gwen and James fall in love the day MLK was buried. That's how history intertwined with people's real lives.
TR: Does the promotion of black Gen X women writers like Edwidge Danticat, ZZ Packer and yourself signal a new era of inclusion in the book-publishing industry?
TJ: Honestly, I don't like to spend too much time scrutinizing the careers of other writers. When I am writing, I really need to keep my head down and my eyes on my own pages. I have books to write, and it doesn't really matter what's going out there in publishing.
Of course, I am delighted to see Gen X black writers getting attention. Delighted. But is it a new era? Maybe. And how new? Toni Morrison won the Nobel 20 years ago. I mean, she really opened doors. Are younger writers walking through those doors? Absolutely.
TR: What, exactly, do you see happening in black books and the relationship between African-American writers and mainstream publishing?
TJ: This question is hard for me to get my arms around. There are many black writers with many different projects with different relationships to publishing. I am not even sure anymore where the lines are between mainstream publishing and some other stream of publishing. Things are fluid these days. We are going to have to get some new language to talk about it.
There are some really great books out there. Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts' Harlem Is Nowhere blew me away. Mat Johnson's Pym is really exciting. And when I go to book festivals, I often pick up a couple of books by self-published authors. It's a really exciting time in literature for black writers -- all of us.