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 the fifth grade when thirty African American children were murdered from the neighborhoods near her home and school. When asked why she chose this subject matter for her first novel, she says, “This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history. It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to been eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic.”
Leaving Atlanta received several awards and accolades including the Hurston/Wright Award for Debut Fiction. It was named “Novel of the Year” by Atlanta Magazine and “Best Southern Novel of the Year,” by Creative Loafing Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Washington Post both listed it as one of the best of 2002.
Her second novel, The Untelling, published in 2005, is the story of a family struggling to overcome the aftermath of a fatal car accident. When asked why she chose to focus on a particular family in this work after the sprawling historical subject matter of Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones explains, “The Untelling is a novel about personal history and individual and familial 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.” Upon the publication of The Untelling, Essence magazine called Jones, “a writer to watch.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution proclaims Jones to be “one of the best writers of her generation.” In 2005, The Southern Regional council and the University of Georgia Libraries awarded The Untelling with the Lillian C. Smith Award for New Voices.
Silver Sparrow, her third novel was published in 2011 by Algonquin Books. 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. National media coverage includes O Magazine, Vogue, Poets and Writers, NPR’s All Things Considered, among other venues. In addition to being chosen by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association as an Honor Book, Silver Sparrow was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and the 2013 IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award.
A recipient of a Lifetime Acheivement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation,Tayari Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, The University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She has taught at Prairie View A&M University, East Tennessee State University, The University of Illinois and George Washington University. In addition, she has led workshops in Ghana, Uganda, and Brazil. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, where she was awarded with a Board of Trustees Award for Scholarly Excellence, the Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, a Leader in Faculty Diversity Award. Her work has been supported by The National Endowment for the Arts and The United States Artists Foundation and the arts councils of Arizona and Illinois. She spent the 2011-12 academic year at Harvard University as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, researching her forthcoming novel, Dear History.