Jones, Tayari 1970–
Jones, Tayari 1970–
PERSONAL: Born 1970, in Atlanta, GA. Education: Spelman College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1991; University of Iowa, M.A., 1994; Arizona State University. M.F.A., 2000.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 608 South Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and writer. University of Iowa, graduate instructor, 1992–94; Prairie View A&M University, faculty member, 1994–97; Arizona State University, graduate instructor, 1999–2000; East Tennessee State University, Geier writer-in-residence, 2003–04; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, assistant professor of English, 2004–. Cultural Services Department, City of Tempe, AZ, public arts assistant, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Martindale Foundation Award for Fiction, 2000; Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Award, 2000; Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation scholarship, 2001; Ledig House International Writers Colony fellowship, LEF Foundation Award for African-American and Native-American Writers, Gerald Freund fellowship, MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, Jakobson fellow, Wesleyan Summer Writing Conference, and artist fellowship, Arizona Commission on the Arts, all 2002; professional development grant, Arizona Commission on the Arts, Fletcher Pratt fellowship, Bread Loaf Writers Conference and Chateau de Lavigny International Writers Colony fellowship, all 2003; Legacy Award in the Category of Debut Fiction, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, for Leaving Atlanta; College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alumni leader, Arizona State University, Walter E. Dankin fellowship, Sewanee Writers Conference, and GE Fund residency, Corporation of Yaddo, all 2004.
Leaving Atlanta, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Untelling, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to short stories in periodicals and journals, including Sou'wester, Crab Orchard Review, 64, Figdust, HealthQuest, and Catalyst, and in anthologies, including Am I the Last Virgin?, edited by Tara Roberts, Simon & Schuster, 1997; Gumbo, edited by Marita Golden, Doubleday, 2002; Proverbs for the People, edited by TaRessa Stovall, Kensington Press, 2003; and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best 2004, Algonquin Books, 2004. Creative nonfiction and literary criticism have appeared in Father Songs, edited by Gloria Wade Gayles, Beacon Press, 1997; Letters of Intent, edited by Meg Daly, Free Press, 1999; and Langston Hughes Review.
ADAPTATIONS: Leaving Atlanta was adapted as an audiobook by Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Tayari Jones is a novelist and short-story writer whose fiction often focuses on the urban south, where she grew up. In her critically acclaimed first book, Leaving Atlanta, Jones sets the scene in Atlanta during the 1979–81 period when a number of real-life African-American children were murdered, many of them near the author's home as a child. "This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history," Jones noted on her home page. "It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to be eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic."
In the novel, Jones tells the story of three inner-city children who go to the same elementary school and the effects that the murders in Atlanta have on them. Tasha struggles to fit in with the popular crowd at school. When another boy, who also does not fit in, expresses interest in her, Tasha seeks approval from the popular kids by announcing in front of her classmates that she wishes the killer would kill him, too. When the boy fails to show up for class, Tasha begins to fret that perhaps her words are more powerful than she thought. Rodney is bright but shy and, unlike Tasha, does not even try to fit in. His grades begin to fail and when his father comes and whips him in front of his classmates, Rodney is set on a confrontational path with someone who may be the killer. Octavia is also a misfit who is made fun of for being poor and extremely black in skin color. As the murders continue, Ocatavia's father, who has had little to do with Octavia and lives in suburban South Carolina with his new family, calls to see if Octavia wants to come stay with him and escape the dangerous Atlanta area where she lives. Octavia, who excels in school, knows it is a good opportunity, but debates leaving her mother behind even as a friend goes missing.
In a review of Leaving Atlanta on the Mostly Fiction Web site, Kam White noted that "throughout the book, there is little mention of any details of the actual murders that took place. Instead, we are allowed to explore the emotional relationships among the children and the effects that the disappearances of their friends have on them and the community." Melissa Morgan, writing on the Bookreporter.com, commented that the author "effortlessly infuses each of the three children in her novel with their own unique voice … and through doing so creates the mood of an entire city." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author's "strongly grounded tale hums with the rhythms of schoolyard life and proves Jones to be a powerful storyteller." VeTalle Fusilier, writing in the Black Issues Book Review, commented that "this first novel by Jones is a work of great promise." Vanessa Bush wrote in Booklist, that "Jones is as skillful at evoking the fear and anxiety of that horrendous summer as she is at recalling coming-of-age concerns."
In her second novel, The Untelling, Jones tells the story of Aria Jackson, who, along with her mother, survived a terrible car accident that killed her father and baby sister. Psychologically scarred from the ordeal, Aria is struggling fifteen years later to make her life whole and find love while her mother has fallen apart and become a crack addict. Aria is unable to tell her boyfriend or other friends about this past experience, which eventually leads her to deeper feelings of guilt despite the altruistic work she does as a literacy instructor in Atlanta's inner city. Furthermore, her secret tragedy also threatens any hope for happiness that she may have as it keeps others from fully understanding who she is and why. Vanessa Bush, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "offers a delicate portrait of a young woman's emotional fragility." In a review in Library Journal, Maureen Neville called the book a "bittersweet second novel." Black Issues Book Review contributor Nicole Shaw commented that the novel "will stir readers to evaluate the misfortunes of their own lives, and be resolved to the fact that life is what it is." As a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "the first-person narration is convincing and genuine, and Jones handles her material with sensitivity and sympathy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, July-August, 2002, VeTalle Fusilie, review of Leaving Atlanta, p. 38; March-April, 2005, Nicole Shaw, review of The Untelling, p. 51.
Booklist, August, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of Leaving Atlanta, p. 1920; March 15, 2005, review of The Untelling, p. 1265.
Essence, April, 2005, "A Novelist to Watch," p. 100.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of Leaving Atlanta, p. 830; January 15, 2005, review of The Untelling, p. 75.
Library Journal, September 1, 2002, Roger A. Berger, review of Leaving Atlanta, p. 214; March 15, 2005, Maureen Neville, review of The Untelling, p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, June 17, 2002, review of Leaving Atlanta, p. 38; February 28, 2005, review of The Untelling, p. 40.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (July 5, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Leaving Atlanta.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (July 5, 2005), Melissa Morgan, review of Leaving Atlanta.
English Department University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Web site, http://www.english.uiuc.edu/ (July 5, 2005), profile of author.
Mostly Fiction, http://mostlyfiction.com/ (February 10, 2003), Kam White, review of Leaving Atlanta.
Spellman University Web site, http://www.spelman.edu/ (July 5, 2005), "Interview with Tayari Jones."
Tayari Jones Home Page, http://www.tayarijones.com (July 5, 2005).