Today we kicked off the annual One Book, One Philadelphia reading period with the announcement of the 2019 featured selection. You’re invited to jump into the 17th season of this citywide book club by reading Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, the National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones.
With interlocking layers, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a book about love, home, time, and justice. Part ghost story, part road novel, it is "a harrowing panorama of the rural South" (Los Angeles Review of Books), and the story of one family reeling across generations from unresolved loss.
"I slept and woke and rose and picked my way through the prison fields, lurked in the barracks, hovered over the men’s faces. Men left, men returned and left again. New men came. I burrowed and slept and woke in the milky light, my time measured by the passing of all those Black faces and the turning of the earth." – Richie
Set on a family farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and following a road trip north to the infamous state penitentiary, Parchman Farm Prison, Sing is mesmerizingly told in a chorus of three voices—thirteen-year-old Jojo; his mother, Leonie; and a ghost Jojo’s age named Richie—all seeking relief and connection across time.
"I squatted in the grass, watching them, thinking I could almost hear them talk to me, that I could hear them communicate…it was impossible not to hear the animals, because I looked at them and understood, instantly, and it was like looking at a sentence and understanding the words, all of it coming to me at once." – Jojo
The One Book, One Philadelphia committee voted unanimously for Sing. Jesmyn Ward is widely celebrated for her tough lyricism that brings realness and depth to characters that are otherwise often trodden with prejudiced stereotypes, or altogether absent from public narratives. Ward doesn’t hide from readers the pain that burdens her characters in the form of our collective history and neither does she obscure their power, humanity, or love.
"However eternal its concerns," the New York Times writes, "Sing, Unburied, Sing is perfectly poised for the moment."
"I find wild blackberries. I kneel by the side of the road, grab the thorny stems as close to the earth as I can get them, and pull, and the vine pricks my hand, tears at the skin, draws blood in tiny points that smear. My palms burn. Mama thought that if she taught me as much herbal healing as she could, if she gave me a map to the world as she knew it, a world plotted orderly by divine order, spirit in everything, I could navigate it." – Leonie
With writing that has been likened to that of giants Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston, Jesmyn Ward received the National Book Award both for Sing, Unburied, Sing and for Salvage the Bones, her 2011 novel about the chaos and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She’s also a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped, which delves into the short period during which she lost five young men in her life and explores her hometown’s history of systemic racism and poverty.
Men We Reaped is the One Book 2019 adult companion book to Sing, along with the middle-grade companion book Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and the children’s book Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña.
In January, Jesmyn Ward will be in Philadelphia to kick-off eight weeks of citywide programs that dig into her novel. Through March 13, you’re invited to attend book discussions, panels, film screenings, collaging and mixed media workshops, music workshops, creative writing groups, cooking classes, self-care sessions, and more—all based on the themes in Sing, Unburied, Sing.