Tayari Jones wins Women's Prize for Fiction for 'American Marriage'

Emory Report | June 7, 2019

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Tayari Jones, professor of English and creative writing at Emory, has been honored with Women's Prize for Fiction for her acclaimed novel "An American Marriage."

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Emory professor Tayari Jones has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her fourth book, “An American Marriage.” One of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, the prize honors the year’s best novel written in English by a woman of any nationality.

Jones, a professor of English and creative writing at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, had previously earned an Aspen Words Literary Prize and NAACP Image Award for “An American Marriage,” among other honors. The New York Times bestseller tells the story of Celestial and Roy, young black newlyweds whose pursuit of the American dream is violently interrupted when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Jones won the award just a day after appearing on National Prison Radio in the UK. At the ceremony, she asked readers to remember “the millions of people who are incarcerated around the world.”

She said she had not written a speech or expected to win against a short list that included two previous winners of the Booker Prize.

“I feel that all of the nominees have written accessible work because we are bringing truth to the people, and the people are the power,” Jones said as she accepted the award June 5 in London. Watch a video of her accepting the award.

Kate Williams, historian and chair of this year's judging panel for the U.K.-based award, called the book “an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice.”

“It is a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas – that shines a light on today’s America,” Williams said. “We all loved this brilliant book.”

The win comes with a monetary prize equivalent to approximately $38,000 and “ensures an author’s work will be promoted in bookshops and libraries the world over,” according to organizers.

“An American Marriage” has landed on the recommended reading lists of everyone from Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey, who in addition to making it an official Oprah’s Book Club pick also bought the film rights for the story.