What is a story?
Perhaps the question isn’t what, but where. Every story I’ve read has taken me somewhere, twisting and turning the ground under me until I’m in a place I haven’t been before. A good story invites and encompasses the reader, until he or she knows the characters and imagines each scene, completely engulfed in what’s happening and what’s to come.
To me, here’s the real question: where does the story take you?
In Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, the reader is taken on a number of journeys. Ward writes of the physical journey in the form of the road trip taken by Leonie, Jojo, Kayla, and Misty. Our throats feel Jojo’s thirst, we worry about Kayla’s health, and our frustration swells along with Leonie’s own anger. We also travel into the past, both through memories, Pop’s stories, and the ghosts that linger throughout the novel. Like most of the characters, we feel just as haunted as they do by their past.
We move through the "haunted landscape" that Ward creates, living in it as these characters. We’re one with them—their past, their needs, their desires, their pain, their fear. They become dear to us because as soon as we begin turning those pages, we are traveling as they are. We see the complicated world through their eyes.
And, like most journeys, Sing, Unburied, Sing ends, allowing the reader to only move forward. Some questions are answered and some aspects of human nature are understood. But, we are also left with unanswered inquiries and dissatisfaction. This journey ends, but we crave more, desperate for more clarity and solutions.
Where will the next journey take us? What more will we learn from a new story? Could another story help us identify more about this one?
One Book, One Philadelphia creates programs based on the featured selection, but also connects it to other stories, or journeys. Programs include film screenings—movies also allow viewers to voyage, presenting a visually striking story that will lead one somewhere new. Discussions will often follow these film screenings, exploring themes within Sing, Unburied, Sing and perhaps further clarifying aspects of the novel that felt muddied and unsolved. Road Trip Workshops will also be held, allowing for an opportunity to step into the stories of surrounding peers and envisioning what a road trip means to different people.
For a complete list of One Book programs, check out our calendar.
Now, go, fellow travelers—see where the road takes you.