Ward earned the prestigious literary prize for her most recent novel, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” at the National Book Foundation’s awards ceremony last night. She drew from her childhood experiences in rural Mississippi for the book, which examines generational trauma and familial strife through the eyes of Jojo, a 13-year-old boy who comes of age in a troubled Mississippi family. His life is upended when his Black mother, wrestling with substance abuse and visions of her murdered brother, take him and his toddler sister to meet his White father upon his release from prison. The story follows Jojo as he bares witness to the racism that haunts his family.
Ward earned the same National Book Award in 2011 for her last novel, “Salvage the Bones.” Her latest honor comes with a $10,000 prize to support ongoing work. The MacArthur Foundation honored Ward with a “genius grant” last month.
Ward spoke about facing literary industry rejection during her acceptance speech.
“Throughout my career, when I have been rejected, there was sometimes subtext, and it was this: People will not read your work because these are not universal stories,” Ward recounted, as quoted by NPR. “I don’t know whether some doorkeepers felt this way because I wrote about poor people or because I wrote about Black people or because I wrote about Southerners. As my career progressed and I got some affirmations, I still encountered that mindset every now and again.”
Watch video from last night’s awards ceremony below: