Jesmyn Ward’s brilliantly compelling novel Salvage the Bones won The National Book Award in Fiction last week. In this interview at The Paris Review Daily, she talks about facets of her book including Hurricane Katrina, the enduring influence of William Faulkner, the role of Greek myths in the story, and the political space of the novel as an art form:
My family and I survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005; we left my grandmother’s flooding house, were refused shelter by a white family, and took refuge in trucks in an open field during a Category Five hurricane. I saw an entire town demolished, people fighting over water, breaking open caskets searching for something that could help them survive. I realized that if I was going to assume the responsibility of writing about my home, I needed narrative ruthlessness. I couldn’t dull the edges and fall in love with my characters and spare them. Life does not spare us.
A forthcoming memoir will chart new territory in the “life’s work” that the writer described in her acceptance speech.