An American Marriage by US writer Tayari Jones has bagged the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The book is about the wrongful conviction of a young black American man just when he is on the threshold of starting his marital life. Jones has won £30,000 and the “Bessie” – a limited edition bronze figurine.
The novel won from a six-book shortlist that included last year’s Booker winner, Anna Burns’s Milkman, and former Booker winner Pat Barker’s new novel, The Silence of the Girls. Judges deliberated for four hours and made a very tough decision.
Novelist and Women’s Prize founder-director Kate Mosse hosted the event at Bedford Square Gardens.
Appreciation for the book
Former US President Barack Obama described the book as a “moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.”
Chair of the judges, Professor Kate Williams, said: “This is an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice.”
“I am thrilled and honoured. I wasn’t expecting to win. The shortlist was so strong and I was honoured to be among them but I had no idea whether I would win. I didn’t write a speech!” – Jones
“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.”
She added: “We all loved this brilliant book.”
In 2018, US chat show host Oprah Winfrey announced Jones’ fourth novel as her latest book club pick, saying “it’s one of those books I could not put down.”
The novel is about two ambitious newlyweds Celestial and Roy. “We’re not your garden-variety bourgeois Atlanta Negroes where the husband goes to bed with his laptop under his pillow and the wife dreams about her blue-box jewellery. I was young, hungry and on the come-up. Celestial was an artist, intense and gorgeous,” it begins.
Their lives together are just beginning when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in jail for a rape he hasn’t committed. Celestial believes that he is innocent but finds solace in her childhood friend Andre. Five years later, Roy’s conviction is overturned and he returns home.
The book is about the wrongful conviction of a young black American man just when he is on the threshold of his marital life.
“It’s an incredible examination of America and American life, focusing on the intimacy of marriage but on a huge political canvas.” she said. “The prose is luminous, striking and utterly moving. How hard it is even when you’re on the outside and are free, how you’re not really free when you have someone in prison.”
Jones said, “I am thrilled and honoured. I wasn’t expecting to win. The shortlist was so strong and I was honoured to be among them but I had no idea whether I would win. I didn’t write a speech!”
The Women’s prize is the UK’s only book award for fiction by women. It has been running for 24 years. Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver are the other writers who have won it.
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