Congratulations to Tayari Jones, who has been awarded the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, An American Marriage—the story of middle-class African-American couple, Roy and Celestial, whose lives are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a rape he didn’t commit.
At a ceremony in central London earlier today, Jones (who beat out Pat Barker, Madeline Miller, Diana Evans, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Anna Burns) was presented with the £30,000 award, as well the ‘Bessie’—a limited edition bronze figurine.
In her citation, professor Kate Williams, Chair of Judges, said of the novel: “This is 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. We all loved this brilliant book.”
Congratulations to Jones, and to all the finalists!
“…[a] wise and compassionate novel … It is beautifully written, with many allusions to black music and culture—including the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard … While Jones keeps her gaze on the personal, this intimate story of a relationship cannot be divorced from its racial context. The black body in America can’t escape the scrutiny of the political lens, not entirely. The characters feel lucky that Roy is still alive—as Celestial says, there is ‘no appealing a cop’s bullet.’ While not a polemic, the novel gives us a quiet, revolutionary statement about black innocence, which Celestial defines as ‘having no way to predict the pain of the future.’”
–Stephanie Powell-Watts (The New York Times Book Review)
“[R]ather than dwell on the moral implications of this violent and false imprisonment of a black man, Jones almost speeds through it; specifics of the arrest and the trial are provided in a matter of paragraphs. The terseness doesn’t make these details any less affecting, but does suggest them as essential context for the dissolving marriage at the novel’s core. Jones’s exploration is a breathtaking look at who and what can be complicit in that breakdown … Her writing illuminates the bits and pieces of a marriage: those almost imperceptible moments that make it, break it, and forcefully tear it apart. Touching on familiar marital aspects (infidelity, stasis, competition), Jones suggests that it is the amalgamation of these things, not any particular isolated instance, that can indelibly fracture a relationship … It becomes head-spinning how Jones upends all expectations, flipping the reader’s perceptions and offering unexpected moments of clarity.”
–Tori Latham (The Atlantic)
“Each character speaks directly to us, alternating chapter by chapter, as though Roy and Celestial are pleading for our understanding—and our forgiveness. But Jones offers no clear lines of culpability here, which is what makes An American Marriage so compelling … These are punishing questions, but they’re spun with tender patience by Jones, who cradles each of these characters in a story that pulls our sympathies in different directions. She never ignores their flaws, their perfectly human tendency toward self-justification, but she also captures their longing to be kind, to be just, to somehow behave well despite the contradictory desires of the heart.”
–Ron Charles (The Washington Post)