Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2015 for inclusion in its Big Read library, and in 2016 the Writers@Work program received a Big Read Grant, which will allow the program to increase its reach into the Chattanooga community. With generous additional support from UNUM, Writers@Work has partnered with local high schools to supply free copies of Jones’s book and has extended its reach into the community by connecting with book clubs and developing engaging community programming for implementation during the Writers@Work event in April, 2017. This programming includes events at the Chattanooga Public Library, the Hunter Museum of Art, and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
Tayari Jones was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where she spent most of her childhood with the exception of the one year she and her family spent in Nigeria.
Although she has not lived in her hometown for over a decade, much of her writing centers on the urban south. “Although I now live in the northeast,” she explains, “my imagination lives in Atlanta.”
Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, is a coming of age story set during the city’s infamous child murders of 1979-81. Jones herself was in fifth grade when thirty African American children were murdered from the neighborhoods near her home and school. Her second novel, The Untelling, published in 2005, is the story of a family struggling to overcome the aftermath of a fatal car accident. She describes The Untelling as “a novel about personal history an individual and family myth-making. These personal stories are what come together to determine the story of a community, the unofficial history of a neighborhood, of a city, of a nation.”
Silver Sparrow, her third novel, was published in 2011 by Algonquin Books. With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one.
The Village Voice wrote that, “Tayari Jones is fast defining black middle-class Atlanta the way that Cheever did for Westchester.” The American Booksellers chose Silver Sparrow as the #1 Indie Next pick for June, 2011. Library Journal, O Magazine, Slate, and Salon all selected the novel among the best of the year. Silver Sparrow was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and the 2013 IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award.
A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, The University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She has taught at numerous colleges including The University of Illiniois, East Tennessee State University, and George Washington University. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, where she received a Board of Trustees Award for Scholarly Excellence, and the Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. (Adapted from http://www.tayarijones.com/about/).