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The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

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

Jesmyn Ward’s visit to Furman, which included a CLP reading and Q&A discussion, provided impactful reflections for Furman students.
Alysha Matthews
Author Jesmyn Ward poses with Alice Tyszka ’25 at Ward’s CLP on March 20.

On March 20, author Jesmyn Ward visited Furman’s campus for a CLP reading and Q&A discussion, where she shared meaningful pieces of her lived experience and writing journey. Garnering a large turnout of students and faculty, Ward’s visit was worth the wait!

The CLP opened with words from President Elizabeth Davis, who said that Ward’s writing and the impact of her work is a “beautiful, challenging example of what we can learn from art.” Davis said Ward’s stories highlight raw emotions and parts of the Black experience which are “told in a way that is hard to ignore.”

Furman senior and English and Theatre Arts double major Alysha Matthews spoke next to share what Ward’s work meant to her. Matthews described her experience reading one of Ward’s books for the first time, saying, “I began to wonder where novels like these had been my entire life.” One aspect of Ward’s writing that stands out to Matthews is that “her writing explores what it means to be human.”

As Ward expressed in her speech, part of honoring truth and people through her writing is letting her characters feel and act according to the full range of human emotion. Her characters develop as she considers the natural parts of our existence – hope, fears, desires, loss and love.

I believe this is one of the key reasons why myself, Alysha Matthews and many of her other readers feel so connected to her characters. They remind us of our own humanity and the need for us to have compassion for everyone going through life alongside us.

Ward explained that, while a part of her would only like to write the good, writing about more complicated truths reminds her of the value in overcoming and in joy.

One of the most impactful parts of the CLP was when Ward shared more of her writing journey, such as why she writes and what she considers as she creates and tells new stories. “Tell it straight. Tell it all.” These are the words Ward holds close, from her grandmother, as she writes. Ward explained that, while a part of her would only like to write the good, writing about more complicated truths reminds her of the value in overcoming and in joy. She focuses on capturing the whole and doesn’t shy away from exploring the range of love and loss because “love and loss are twins in life.” Sorrow and joy, and everything in between, flow as one in the grand scheme of things.

Ward also expressed the importance of holding onto stories within her family and her greater community. She writes for her brother, who was killed by a drunk driver. While sitting with her heartbreak, she allows memory and stories to carry her forward. She writes because she has thought to herself, “how could I not honor this truth in writing?”

She writes about enslavement and tells it straight and tells it all, because these American stories are harder to swallow and must be dealt with. Remembered. Honored. Carried through time. She said she tells it straight because her grandmother can’t. Ward believes, “loving them is bearing witness and writing about it.” She shared, “all of my writing comes from a place of love.”

The entire time that Ward spoke, I found myself leaning forward in my seat and thinking about how brilliant she is. Ward is one of the best writers I have ever had the privilege of meeting, not only because of her genuine kindness and spirit, but also her authentic ability to capture raw narratives in her rhythmic prose and impactful language. Her dedication to her readers as she signed everyone’s books and spoke to each individual reader also struck me. Even after the event had ended, Ward took pictures with CLP attendees and intentionally talked with everyone.

The conversation I had with Ward as I was getting my copies of “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “Let Us Descend” signed is one I will always cherish. I immediately felt connected to Ward while also feeling in awe and not knowing where to begin. I started off my own conversation feeling emotional from her reading as I considered what a gift it is to have her visit Furman.

I now have the honor of carrying her words of wisdom with me. I will always remember her meditation on writing from a place of love as I write and hope to touch lives in the same way Ward has. Finally, I would like to thank the English Department, Dr. Pate and everyone else who played an instrumental role in hosting Jesmyn Ward’s visit and providing this opportunity to meet her.

A previous version of this article misquoted Ward, a statement that read, “life and death are twins.” The article now reflects the accurate quote: “love and loss are twins in life.”

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