Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner 2019 – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 winner was announced on June 5 and the prize this year went to American author Tayari Jones for her novel An American Marriage, published by One World, who brought us my favourite book of 2018 Kintu by Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.  Renowned for publishing:

“emotionally engaging stories with strong narratives and distinctive voices. In addition to being beautifully written, our novels introduce the reader to a different culture or an interesting historical period/event, and deeply explore the human condition in all its vagaries. We aim to publish novels that matter, that stay with you long after the last page is turned”

Professor Kate Williams, Chair of Judges, said:

“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.”

Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, and Leaving Atlanta. The book was named as a favourite by both Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama; Oprah is in talks to make it into a film.

An American Marriage examines a wrongfully incarcerated man and examines how he, his wife, and their families deal with the fallout. The premise made me remember reading James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk earlier this year, a novella that explores a similar situation and was also released as a film in 2019.

Asked about what inspired her to write the novel, Tayari Jones mentions overhearing a couple talking. Intrigued by the complexity and intensity of their conversation and the issues it raised, she went home and began to write what would become this award wining novel.

I was in a shopping mall, and I heard a couple arguing. They were in love and in trouble. She said, “Roy you know you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years.”  And he shot back, “This wouldn’t have happened to you in the first place.”

While in London, Tayari Jones also shared four books that impacted her as a writer and as a reader.

  • Patricia Highsmith’s Stranger on a Train – a book that taught her that you do not have to sacrifice great writing for a great plot. Highsmith can take the murder plot, turn it on its head, break your heart, mend it again and leave you wanting more.
  • The Oddyssey by Homer – a complicated epic tale she first encountered in a children’s version, reacquainted with and brought vividly to life more recently in Emily Wilson’s new translation, a story that closely influenced her novel.
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – at 13 she lived in Zaria, in the north of Nigeria and studied this classic novella in her literature class, the first time she’d seen a book contextualize an entire group of people. It provided an understanding of history and of literature and its way of explaining to us who we were. The iconic characters, she has never forgotten, nor the effect they had on every person in the class.
  • Toni Morrison’s The Beloved – “the Queen of letters” this novel is simply put the greatest novel of my lifetime, this book explained the way the past influences the future. Our stories are a generational legacy, a story of how to integrate our past into a deeper understanding of who we are. I think of my life as before and after Beloved. Beloved contextualized me as a Black American. It taught me how literature can explain our modern world to ourselves.

Have you read An American Marriage or any of the books Tayari Jones is inspired by?

Buy a Copy of An American Marriage via Book Depository

16 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner 2019 – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

  1. I haven’t read an American Marriage, yet. Although I have read most of the others on the shortlist. Funnily enough, I did think this might be the winner – there have so many enthusiastic reviews. I read Beloved years ago and found it very affecting. It is on my most limited of all lists : my TBRR list.

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    • Thanks for reminding me of that, I had added that to my list of films to watch and also there was an interview with Oprah about it as well. Always a timely subject, makes me wonder hat James Baldwin would think, to see this subject hasn’t improved since he too wrote about it.

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  2. Pingback: Congrats, Tayari: Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner 2019 – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones — Word by Word | Wadadli Pen

  3. I have just started If Beale Street Could Talk and was planning to go on to An American Marriage afterwards because they seem like a good pairing as you say. That ‘further reading’ list is cracking too isn’t it. I have been meaning to get around to Wilson’s Odyssey for ages.

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  4. I read and had some mixed feelings about the novel. I enjoyed aspects of the story and the complexity of the situations but had trouble with some characters. This is one I would recommend reading for yourself to see how you relate to the story. I hope you enjoy it.

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    • I probably would have read it by now if it hadn’t already had so much publicity even prior to winning the prize, I love that it won and I’m interested to read it, but I’ll probably read Celestial Bodies (which I have) which won the Man Booker International, to celebrate a woman writer being translated into English from a little known country – Oman. I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts on An American Marriage though, I enjoy listening you talk about your reads on your YouTube channel.

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