In Jesymn Ward’s new book, “Let Us Descend,” the protagonist is a young woman sold down the river to New Orleans during slavery. Ward, a native of Mississippi who teaches at Tulane University, is a master of lyrical writing, and tough subjects. She won National Book Awards for “Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and “Salvage The Bones” (2011). Ward’s 2013 nonfiction book, “Men We Reaped: A Memoir,” examined the deaths of male relatives and friends. The book was a poetic expose´about the impact of poverty and the social challenges that Black men face in society. Ward’s ability to move stories along and to present themes in subtle ways is her gift.
In “Let Us Descend,” Ward uses historical fiction to deepen her observations of the South. When contemporary writers approach the past, it is usually done in a way that can reflect on contemporary issues. Several new books by Black writers are in the process of re-examining history including “The American Daughters” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, a New Orleans writer. “A Kind of Freedom,” published in 2017, by New Orleans native Margaret Wilkerson Sexton was a National Book Award nominee, a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. The book explores how racism impacts several generations of a Black family in New Orleans. It received accolades “as a luminous and assured first novel,” according to The New York Times.
A few words about Louisiana’s first African-American poet laureate are in order. Pinkie Gordon Lane wrote five books of poetry. Her second, “The Mystic Female,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Lane taught at Leland College in Baker, Louisiana, and Southern University while working on her craft. Born in 1923, Lane was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.
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