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The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

CLP Preview: “Tell It Whole: On Witness and Narrative”

On March 20, author Jesmyn Ward will visit Furman for a CLP reading and discourse in the Watkins Room.
Beowulf Sheehan

Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward will be bringing her insights, books and words of wisdom to Furman’s campus for a CLP reading and discourse titled, “Tell It Whole: On Witness and Narrative,” which students won’t want to miss on March 20.

Ward is a Professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University and has published four books, two of which, “Salvage the Bones” and “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” won the National Book Award for Fiction. Her fourth novel, “Let Us Descend,” came out in October 2023.

Ward has written for the New York Times, was listed by Time Magazine as one of 100 most influential people in 2018 and won a McArthur Genius Grant in 2017.

She has made a name for herself as a trailblazer in the writing industry and established herself in the genre of Southern Literature as a new, powerful voice. Her work focuses on highlighting the lived experiences of members within the Black community and their journeys of self-discovery as they navigate their existence both within and beyond the context of violence, oppression, systemic trauma and racism. She also explores the generational trauma brought on as a result of these brutal realities.

As an English major taking the course “Literature of the South and American Novel Since World War I,” I have had the opportunity to read both “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “Let Us Descend” two novels I would recommend to anyone. Woven into her prose rhythm, Ward harnesses the incredible ability to evoke empathy for her characters and remind us of our shared humanity, which leaves her readers thinking beyond the world of fiction.

In “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Ward gives voices to voiceless people often deemed unworthy or undeserving within our society. I believe that, for readers, this creates a sense of deeper compassion and understanding that moves from the intimate nature of a reader and character to the very real way we interact with this world and those around us.

Through different points of view and narratives, Ward also pushes against the narrative that all people today value and are treated with equity and justice, and she shares often unspoken truths about the ways in which people continue to be oppressed through the dangerous impacts of unresolved racism. In speaking, or rather, singing of these unburied issues through differing points of view, Ward calls readers to action for much needed societal change.

This is something students will be telling their grandchildren about years later. That they were able to, during their college experience, listen to a talk by Jesmyn Ward.

— Dr. Willard Pate, Professor of English and CLP sponsor

She argues in “Sing, Unburied, Sing” that this world is not a world for all to live in, but a world for a select few who are without the trauma of racism, oppression and violence in their lives. This societal change and storytelling on Ward’s part reinforces the idea that all human beings should be met with the dignity and worthiness that already exists within, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or other social or personal identities. Getting to learn more about her impactful themes and messages regarding self-discovery, unburied truths, fights for change, resistance, social justice and storytelling are just a few of the many reasons why I am thrilled for her visit to Furman.

Dr. Willard Pate, Professor of English and the CLP’s sponsor, is excited for Ward’s visit and has been eagerly awaiting this event for four years now since Ward’s previously scheduled visit was postponed due to COVID-19 in 2020.

“Having a writer of her stature at this time on our campus is amazing,” Pate said. “This is something students will be telling their grandchildren about years later. That they were able to, during their college experience, listen to a talk by Jesmyn Ward.”

Ward has a gift – which, luckily, she shares with the rest of us as we read her work – of making individuals feel the past in a contemporary way. It forces you to feel less removed from the past and connect with and feel part of the ways in which the present recalls the past.

“Literature is all about language. You have to have the language in order to have a great book. The language has to say something great, and Ward has the language. She gives you the contemporary experience of Black southerners and, for me, it’s enlightening,” Dr. Pate said.

Do not miss this amazing opportunity – join us for Jesmyn Ward’s CLP on March 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at Watkins Room.

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