Sing Unburied Sing

Jesmyn Ward, as some might say, is the “real deal.” Her writing is powerful, literary, and deeply felt. In this book, she accomplishes a difficult task: she creates depth of feeling through great story telling and tells truths about both contemporary and historical black lives. After seeing films like The 13th and reading writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson, it’s hard to read stories about black men in prison, especially in the 19th and 20th century, without thinking of the themes like Jim Crow era, post chattel slavery, subjugation of African American men in America. That context was very much front of mind, for me, throughout this book.

And if that was all this book gave – a story about the impacts of imprisonment on black families – that would be great on its own. But we get much more here. We get a tender, precocious, teenage protagonist in Jojo. We get a Southern car journey that moves through Mississippi and through time. We get descriptions of heat, vomit, broken cars, drug-addled ghost visions, dirt and dying that will stick with me for a while. In many ways, I felt about this book, the way I felt about Underground Railroad last year. It is serious, literary and emotionally relentless.