Mississippi Author Jesmyn Ward: Winner of the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction

Head and shoulders portrait of Jesmyn Ward against a dark background, highlighting her face

Jesmyn Ward. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan.

This is a guest post by Leah Knobel, a public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today that the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction will be awarded to Jesmyn Ward, whose lyrical works set in her native Mississippi feature the lives of Black people finding a way to endure and prevail over a world of harsh racism and violence. At 45, Ward is the youngest person to receive the Library’s fiction award for her lifetime of work.

“Jesmyn Ward’s literary vision continues to become more expansive and piercing, addressing urgent questions about racism and social injustice being voiced by Americans,” said Hayden. “Jesmyn’s writing is precise yet magical, and I am pleased to recognize her contributions to literature with this prize.”

One of the Library’s most prestigious awards, the annual Prize for American Fiction honors an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination. The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that — throughout consistently accomplished careers — have told us something essential about the American experience.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award, not only because it aligns my work with legendary company, but because it also recognizes the difficulty and rigour of meeting America on the page, of appraising her as a lover would: clear-eyed, open-hearted, keen to empathize and connect,” Ward said. “This is our calling, and I am grateful for it.”

Hayden selected Ward as this year’s winner based on nominations from more than 60 distinguished literary figures, including former winners of the prize, acclaimed authors and literary critics from around the world. The virtual prize ceremony will take place at the Library’s 2022 National Book Festival on Sept. 3.

The fiction prize was inaugurated in 2008, recognizing Herman Wouk. Last year’s winner was Joy Williams. Other winners have included Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Isabel Allende and E.L. Doctorow.

Ward is the acclaimed author of the novels “Where the Line Bleeds” and then two books that each won the National Book Award: “Salvage the Bones” in 2011 and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” in 2017. Her nonfiction work includes the memoir “Men We Reaped,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the 2020 work “Navigate Your Stars.” Ward is also the editor of the anthology “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race.”

Ward is one of only six writers to receive the National Book Award more than once and the only woman and Black American to do so. Ward was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2017 and was the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi for the 2010-2011 academic year. In 2018, she was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the world.

Ward lives in Mississippi and is a professor of creative writing at Tulane University.

The National Book Festival will take place Sept. 3 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington. This will be the first time the festival has been in person since 2019. A selection of programs will be livestreamed, and recordings of all presentations can be viewed online following the festival.

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