Matters of Black Southern Life and Death: the Writing of Jesmyn Ward

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Martyn Bone


University of Copenhagen


DKK 715,896




Monograph Fellowships


My project is about the writing of Jesmyn Ward, arguably the most important American writer to emerge in the twenty-first century. Since 2008, Ward has published three novels (including two National Book Award winners) and a memoir: she has also edited a book about race in the US. My monograph focuses on three key themes running throughout Ward's writing: 1) race relations and racial violence in the U.S. South, from slavery to the twenty-first century: 2) the ways in which environmental catastrophes intersect with and expose social inequalities: and 3) how economic globalization affects the everyday lives of African Americans. The book will also situate Ward's work in relation to major figures in modern American literature including William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison.


The project is important partly because it will be the first monograph devoted to Ward's writing, which has achieved a wide audience within and beyond the U.S. (for example, the Danish translation of her latest novel--Sing, Unburied, Sing--has achieved critical and commercial success). The social engagement of Ward's writing is also important: in both fiction and non-fiction, Ward dramatizes hot topics from the Obama and Trump presidencies (the era with which her career coincides). By dramatizing how racial and economic forces shape her characters' lives, Ward also engages contemporary concerns of global significance. Relatedly, Ward's emphasis on ecological catastrophe--hurricanes, oil spills--makes her an important critical and creative voice in current debates about the Anthropocene.


Research and writing of the book is underway, so I anticipate that the Carlsberg Foundation Monograph Fellowship will provide me with the very valuable time to complete a final draft for submission to a publisher (three U.S. presses have already declared their interest in the book). In 2022, I am scheduled to give a second international conference keynote based on the book project: throughout the fellowship year, I will continue to present my work internationally in order to "road-test" and revise the material. I expect to write most of the book while based here in Copenhagen, but travel plans include a return to the University of Mississippi (where I worked previously) to conduct further research, and to interview Ward, who is a native and resident of Mississippi.

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