Monday, May 16, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones is the author of two previous novels. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She serves on the MFA faculty at Rutgers and blogs on writing at www.tayari jones.com/blog.
How did you start out your writing career?
I have been a writer all my life, but I started writing seriously when I was in my early twenties. When I was about twenty-seven, I had a chance meeting with Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Douglass's Woman and Voodoo Dreams. She convinced me to go to get my MFA degree at Arizona State University where she was the director of Creative Writing. She mentored me through the publication of my first novel, LEAVING ATLANTA.
What did you learn while writing this book?
Writing SILVER SPARROW taught me to never give up. About three years ago, my agent contacted me to see how things were coming along with my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. I told her that is was going well and she asked me if I had a hundred clean pages that we could submit to publishers. I was very excited. Who wouldn’t want a new contract and the security (and ego boost) that would bring? She sent the pages out and.. well.. the manuscript was rejected all over town. This left me in an unpleasant predicament. I had a manuscript that was about one-third through, and was said already to be unpublishable. I wasn’t sure if I should even bother to finish the novel.
For months, I wrote nothing at all. It seemed pointless. My characters which I thought were so loveable and complicated had been undressed and shamed. (Some of the rejections were so pointed that I cried. One even suggested that I didn’t “understand fiction yet.”) And this was to be my third novel.
After nearly a year of not writing, I decided that this manuscript was the real litmus test of me as both the person I believe myself to be and the writer that I say I am. I didn’t know if SILVER SPARROW would ever be published or not, but I knew that I owed it to myself and my characters to finish it. Since I am always telling people that it’s process not product that matters, I decided to address myself the way I would talk to someone seeking advice. Would I urge anyone to abandon a story because it won’t be published? I would say to that person, "Since when d
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
I really enjoyed writing about the girl's mothers because I wrote then through the eyes of their daughters. I think that we all feel that we have a certain authority about events that happened before we were born. These passed down stories become our stories, too. So when each girls tells the story of how their parents met, they can tell it with clarity like they were there themselves.
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
I have been stunned by the generosity of readers. When I have been down, the support of strangers has really kept me going.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
I wish has had known that publishing is a roller coaster. When I was down, I wish I had known that I would rise again. I wasted a lot of time worrying when I could have been writing.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
Do-- write as much as you can,
Don't-- be jealous of other writers. They are the ones who can help you the most.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I wish readers could understand more that I try to write what I feel really happened, not so much what I WISH had happened, or how I wish things could be. I get letters sometimes from people who are mad at me about my characters behavior!
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Honestly, I don't really have spare time, unless you count the time when I am asleep!
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I tweet, I blog, I tumbl. Also I give lots of readings and signings. I will go to over thirty venues to meet with readers and talk about SILVER SPARROW!
Our theme for this month is BOOK READERS. Give a shot out to five book clubs who have featured your books.
I don't want to name names-- all the clubs are so wonderful and I don't want to leave anyone out. But I have to say, Atlanta and DC have *amazing* bookclubs!
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
I know that writing is important. I know that it matters for people to see themselves reflected in literature. And I know that to touch a reader with a book means so much more than winning a prize or getting a big advance.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
Can't! I am superstitious like that. But I just found out that I have a fellowship to spend next year at Harvard researching it. It is so exciting to be able to dedicate myself only to my writing and not have to juggle my full time job.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
There is a contact link on my website.
www.tayarijones.com/appearances (tour info)
http://www.scribd.com/doc/51479619/Excerpt-From-Silver-Sparrow-by-Tayari-Jones (an excerpt)
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.
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