Jesmyn Ward’s new novel, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award this morning, is brimming with powerful quotes. Sing, Unburied, Sing follows a family living in Mississippi, focusing on drug-addicted mother Leonie and her 13-year-old son, Jojo. Ward’s emotional book tackles poverty, racial profiling and incarceration in a moving family saga that’s proven to be necessary reading for 2017.
Already a National Book Award-Winning author for her 2011 novel Salvage the Bones, Ward is known for writing insightful, honest prose. And after reading the quotes below, you’ll understand why.
“I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight.”
“Growing up out here in the country taught me things. Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants…But since Mama got sick, I learned pain can do that, too. Can eat a person until there’s nothing but bone and skin and a thin layer of blood left.”
“…from the first moment I saw him walking across the grass to where I sat in the shadow of the school sign, he saw me. Saw past skin the color of unmilked coffee, eyes black, lips the color of plums, and saw me. Saw the walking wound I was, and came to be my balm.”
“There’s things that move a man. Like currents of water inside. Things he can’t help. Older I got, the more I found it true.”
“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”
“This the kind of world, Mama told me when I got my period when I was twelve, that makes fools of the living and saints of them once they dead. And devils them throughout.”
“When I was thirteen, I knew much more than him. I knew that metal shackles could grow into the skin. I knew that leather could split flesh like butter. I knew that hunger could hurt, could scoop me hollow as a gourd, and that seeing my siblings starving could hollow out a different part of me, too. Could make my heart ricochet through my chest desperately.”
“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”