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Edward P. Jones
Washington D.C. 1951 • American writer

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Edward P. Jones grew up in Washington, D.C., where his mother worked as a dishwasher and hotel maid to support Jones and his brother and sister. Though she couldn't read or write herself, Jones' mother encouraged her son to study, and eventually a Jesuit priest who knew Jones suggested he apply for a scholarship at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. There, Jones discovered the odd fact that in the antebellum South, there had been free black people who owned black slaves.

"It was a shock that there were black people who would take part in a system like that," he later told a Boston Globe interviewer. "Why didn't they know better?" That question stayed with Jones for more than 20 years, and would eventually inspire his first novel, The Known World.

After graduating from Holy Cross with a degree in English, Jones moved back to Washington, D.C., and began writing short stories, aiming to create a portrait of his city in the mode of James Joyce's Dubliners. He attended writing seminars, then earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia, but he felt that neither writing nor teaching was a reliable enough source of income. He took a day job as a business writer for an Arlington, Va., nonprofit, and held it for almost 19 years – during which he published his first short-story collection, Lost in the City (1992), which was nominated for a National Book Award. He also began planning his first novel, composing and revising chapters entirely in his head. Jones had just taken a five-week vacation to start writing the book
when he found out he was being laid off, so he lived on severance pay and unemployment during the few months it took him to finish his first draft.

The Known World was published in 2003, eleven years after Lost in the City. "With hard-won wisdom and hugely effective understatement, Mr. Jones explores the unsettling, contradiction-prone world of a Virginia slaveholder who happens to be black," wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times Book Review. Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post Book World called the book "the best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years."

Though some reviewers have praised the author's impressive research, Jones insists he made almost everything up. During the 10 years he spent thinking about his novel, he accumulated shelves full of books about slavery, but ultimately he read none of them, choosing instead to write the book that had already taken shape in his mind. The depth and detail of Jones' fictional Manchester County has been compared with William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

Despite all the attention he's earned, Jones seems unwilling to assume the role of celebrity writer. "If you write a story today, and you get up tomorrow and start another story, all the expertise that you put into the first story doesn't transfer over automatically to the second story," he explained in an online chat on ."You're always starting at the bottom of the mountain. So you're always becoming a writer. You're never really arriving."


Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner, 1936
Narrated by Quentin Compson, the suicide in The Sound and the Fury, this is the tale of Thomas Sutpen, a poor White who dreams of founding a dynasty. His refusal to accept his wife's Negro blood initiates a bloody train of events to create a vision of doom of the American South.

The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner, 1929
The story of the dissolution of the once aristocratic Compson family told through the eyes of three of its members. In different ways they prove to be inadequate to their own family history, unable to deal with either the responsibility of the past or the imperatives of the present.

William Faulkner, 1929
Portrays the decay of the Mississippi aristocracy following the social upheaval of the Civil War. This is the first of the 'Yoknapatawpha County' novels.


The Known World
–› Excerpt

Literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation.

Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison, 1977
This is the story of Macon 'Milkman' Dead, heir to the richest black family in a Midwestern town, as he makes a voyage of rediscovery, travelling southwards geographically and inwards spiritually. Through the enlightenment of one man, the novel recapitulates the history of slavery and liberation.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain, 1884-1885
The story of Huck and his companion Jim, a runaway slave, as they travel down the Mississippi to escape from slavery and "sivilization".

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole, 1980
A monument to sloth, rant and contempt, and suspicious of anything modern – this is Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans, crusader against dunces. In revolt against the 20th century, Ignatius propels his bulk among the flesh-pots of a fallen city, documenting life on his Big Chief tablets as he goes, until his mother decrees that Ignatius must work.

Toni Morrison, 1987
Sethe, an escaped slave living in post-Civil War Ohio with her daughter and mother-in-law, is haunted persistently by the ghost of the dead baby girl whom she sacrificed to save her from slavery.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez, 1967
In the book which put South America on the literary map, Marquez tells the story of an imaginary community in which the political, personal and spiritual worlds interwine.

As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner, 1930
The members of a Southern family contribute their individual tribulations to this encompassing impression of rural poverty.

World's End
T.C. Boyle, 1987
Darkly comic historical drama exploring several generations of families in the Hudson River Valley.

Lost in the City
–› Excerpt

Set in the nation's capital, a collection of stories about African Americans living in Washington, D.C., introduces characters who struggle daily with loss –- of family, of friends, of memories, and of themselves.
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The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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