Black novelist Ward ‘overjoyed’ by MacArthur win

Jesmyn Ward
Updated 12 October 2017
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Black novelist Ward ‘overjoyed’ by MacArthur win

NEW ORLEANS: An African-American novelist praised for her raw and powerful depictions of poor African-Americans confronting racial and economic inequalities in the rural South said Wednesday that winning a MacArthur fellowship gives her time and freedom.
“I think those are the two most important gifts you can give to an artist,” Jesmyn Ward said in a video Wednesday from Tulane University, where she is a professor. “So I am deeply humbled and also overjoyed.”
Hours earlier, the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced she was among 24 recipients of the so-called genius grants, which bestow $625,000 on each winner over five years.
Ward was the 2011 recipient of the National Book Award for her second novel, “Salvage the Bones,” about the struggles of a poor African-American family in her native Mississippi, set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina’s strike on the Gulf Coast.
The author grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi , a community of about 1,100 residents where more than a third live below the poverty line. Her three novels to date have been set in a fictional Mississippi coastal town called Bois Sauvage.
Now 40, Ward said she is currently working on a novel set in early 1800s New Orleans at the height of the domestic slave trade.
“It is a novel unlike anything that I have written ... I am a little nervous, afraid, but also aware of the fact that this novel will make me grow and evolve as a human being, and I am looking forward to that,” Ward said.
The MacArthur Foundation praised Ward as a “fiction writer exploring the bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans in the rural South.” It added she “captures moments of beauty, tenderness, and resilience against a bleak landscape of crushing poverty, racism, addition, and incarceration.”
The announcement also cited her portrayal in “Salvage the Bones” of the struggles of a poor family with teen pregnancy, a missed opportunity to attend college and other experiences. That book also was among recipients of the American Library Association’s Alex Award for adult books that appeal to teens.
Her first novel, “Where the Line Bleeds,” was published in 2008 and was a finalist for two awards. Her third, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” is among five finalists for this year’s National Book Award, which will be made in November.
In 2014, while Ward was teaching creative writing at the University of South Alabama, her memoir “Men We Reaped” was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for autobiography. She came to Tulane later that year as a tenured associate professor of English.
The writer is nearing the end of a two-year break from teaching at Tulane University after winning the $200,000 Strauss Living award in January 2016.
Tulane spokesman Roger Dunaway said he had not heard Wednesday whether Ward plans to extend her leave after winning the MacArthur grant.


Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

A still from the film.
Updated 19 July 2018
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Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

DENVER: Like a gallery wall-sized enlargement of a microscopic image, “Scenes from a Marriage” is all about size, space and perspective.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman — whose birth centenary was marked this week — at 281 minutes long, its unwieldly length presents an intimidating canvas, yet the claustrophobic intimacy of its gaze is unprecedented: The two leads are alone in nearly every scene, many of which play out for more than a half-hour at a time.
Premiered in 1973, the work is technically a TV mini-series, but such is its legend that theaters continue to program its nearly five-hour arc in its entirety. A three-hour cinematic edit was prepared for US theater consumption a year later (it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was ruled ineligible for the corresponding Oscar).
Not a lot a happens but, then again, everything does. Shot over four months on a shoestring budget, its six chapters punctuate the period of a decade. The audience are voyeurs, dropped amid the precious and pivotal moments which may not make up a life, but come to define it.
We meet the affluent Swedish couple Marianne and Johan — played by regular screen collaborators Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, both of whom clocked at least 10 Bergman credits — gloating about ten years’ happy marriage to a visiting reporter. This opening magazine photoshoot is the only time we see their two children on camera, and inevitably the image projected is as glossy, reflective and disposable as the paper it will be printed on.
The pressures, pains and communication breakdowns which tear this unsuited pair apart are sadly familiar. The series was blamed for a spike in European divorce rates. It may be difficult to survive the piece liking either lead, but impossible not to emerge sharing deep pathos with them both. Sadly, much of the script is said to be drawn from Bergman’s real-life off-screen relationship with Ullmann.
It’s a hideously humane, surgical close-up likely to leave even the happiest couple groping into the ether on their way out of the cinema.