Griot Institute: Jones speaks to students

By Heather Hennigan


On Thursday, Jan. 26, author Tayari Jones spent the day on campus, engaging with students in a personal, relaxed discussion group and a formal reading of her most recent novel, “Silver Sparrow.”

Students were able to meet Jones during the discussion group and learn about her personal life.

Her lecture briefly touched upon many facets of her life, including her early childhood, her educational experiences and the beginning of her writing career. During the recounting of her life’s many ups and downs, she elaborated on one of her personal beliefs: “Everyone,” she said, “pays their dues, but just at different times. Some people start out with a privileged upbringing and encounter a bumpy road along the way, others hit roadblocks early on until things smooth over later, and the really lucky ones get to pay a little bit at a time–-but no matter what, we’re always paying them.”

Jones also explained her inspiration for “Silver Sparrow,” which features a man, two daughters, two wives and the double life they live, though only one family knows about the bigamy.

Jones began by explaining her own life inspired the plot, and added with a laugh, “My father’s not a bigamist, he’s a political scientist!” In reality, Jones actually felt privileged over her two older half-sisters, who had grown up in a more oppressive era with single mothers and minimal interaction with their father, while she was born 10 years later into a stable family environment with a father who had become much more devoted.

The discussion wrapped up with a question-and-answer session, where a participant asked Jones if she began writing “Silver Sparrow” with a complete plot in her head. Without hesitation, Jones replied, “No, not at all!” and explained that if she had an end in mind, the book was done–-there was no room for a true story if the author knew where it was going to go.

Though she called her do-it-as-you-go writing style a bit risky, she assured the audience that she wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked what made a good story, “Raise the stakes. Take an event and ‘crank it up’-–add a little more drama or depth,” Jones said.

Without the usual pressure of a fancy speech or a big crowd, the discussion group was able to engage in Jones’ speech and presentation. Even though it was a smaller, more low-key event, it was an enriching experience for all in attendance.

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