Compiled by a committee of Texas librarians, the annual list of Lariat award winners calls attention to outstanding fiction published during the year that merit special attention from adult readers. The main criteria for selecting books for the Lariat List is that they are “a pleasure to read.”
Judges notation for Silver Sparrow:
Sisters, secrets, and deception devastate two African-American families in 1980s Atlanta. A lyrical narrative richly depicts the complexities of these flawed yet sympathetic characters.
Tayari Jones appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this evening to discuss the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.
Learning about death and dying is part of growing up. If we are lucky, we come to understand that death is natural through the passing of a grandparent or some other elder. If we are lucky, we will be taught something about a life well lived.
But for too many of us, we are made aware of our own mortality seeing our peers — the boys we want to go to the movies with, the boys who used to pull our hair — we learned that they could be killed for the crime being themselves. Young. Black. And Male.
Read the full essay, and listen to audio on npr.org
Silver Sparrow has been named as a 2012 Honor Book by The Black Caucus of the American Library Association. BCALA serves as an advocate for the development, promotion, and improvement of library services and resources to the nation’s African American community; and provides leadership for the recruitment and professional development of African American librarians.
The BCALA Literary Awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2011. Ms. Jones will receive her award during the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Anaheim, CA
The NAACP Image Awards is the nation’s premier multi-cultural awards show celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts (television, recording, literature, motion picture and writing & directing), as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors. 2012 will mark the 43rd anniversary of this important ceremony.
Her Word as Witness: Women Writers of the African Diaspora, a collection of photographs by Brooklyn artist Layla Amatullah Barrayn, opened at Restoration Plaza’s Skylight Gallery on December 3, 2011. In addition to Tayari Jones, the exhibit showcases images of 76 other writers including of Sonia Sanchez, Edwidge Danticat and former Essence Editor-in-Chief Susan L. Taylor.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution selects Silver Sparrow as 2011’s “Best of The South”. Book Critic, Gina Webb writes:
Set in Atlanta in the ’80s, Jones’ third novel opens with a startling confession: “My father, James WIthersppon, is a bigamist.” Witherspoon’s two daughters, Dana and Chaurisse, take turns narrating this unforgettable story of two families living only miles apart, one legitimate and one “secret,” and the painful differences– and unexpected familiarity– of their separate worlds.
Sixteen-year-old Dana Lynn Yarboro lives with her mother in 1980s Atlanta, not far from her father, who visits at least once a week. But in Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow (Algonquin), this is not your typical single-parent household: Dana’s dad and mom are married, after all. The thing is, they’re a “secret family” because he’s also married to another woman and has another daughter across town. Written in the voices of Dana and her half-sister, Chaurisse, this buoyant novel never succumbs to TV-movie mawkishness; Dana, despite the situation, is full of perverse wisdom and proud joy. (“Life, you see, is all about knowing things,” she surmises. “Yes, we have suffered, but we never doubted that we enjoyed at least one peculiar advantage… I knew about Chaurisse; she didn’t know about me.”) Even when the two girls meet, the bigamist father is exposed, and lives unravel, Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers. As Dana explains: “People say, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But they are wrong. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. That’s all you get.”
Clarence V. Reynolds, assistant director at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, selected Silver Sparrow for inclusion on Mosaic Literary Magazine’s “Best of 2011” list. Reynolds writes:
Set in contemporary Atlanta, Dana and her mother, Gwen, are the other, secret family of polygamist James Witherspoon. The two teenage “sisters,” Dana Lynn and Bunny Chaurisse, eventually meet, and what starts as a friendship stirred by curiosity ends with a painful blow. The two young girls do, indeed, have their say: the book is divided into two parts, one for each. Through her use of authentic dialogue and headstrong characters, Tayari Jones serves up a dramatic story about an unconventional family relationship—which rings with some uncomfortable reality—complete with all of the laughs, heartache, and truthfulness that inevitably surface.
The audio version of Silver Sparrow, narrated by Rosalyn Coleman Williams and Heather Alicia Simms, has been selected by eMusic as one of the top audio books of 2011. Critic, Kate Silver, writes:
Familial roots are exposed and tangled in Tayari Jones’s spirited coming-of-age tale, set in mid-’80s Atlanta. Teenagers Dana Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon may be raised on pop music and television, but even a “modern” family like the Bradys can’t prepare them for a harsh reality. When the girls meet in a drugstore and bond over faux hair and handbags, Dana knows Chaurisse is her sister. This is no Parent Trap-style farce, however. James Witherspoon, a car service owner and driver, has kept Dana and her mother out of his daily life for years. James has worked hard to keep the girls apart — he forbids Dana from taking a coveted summer job at Six Flags when Chaurisse applies, and discourages them from choosing the same college. While sweet Chaurisse sees her father at the dinner table every night, the younger Dana is used to feeling slighted. “When most people think of bigamy,” she says in the novel’s opening passage, “if they think of it at all, they imagine some primitive practice on the pages of National Geographic.” Far from a foreign landscape or scripted dramedy, Silver Sparrow tells the story of two working families. Divided into two narratives (told by Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams), the novel offers a funny and affecting glance at haves and have-nots. From Dana’s need for a father’s love (“Who doesn’t want to be loved? Anyone who has been cast off knows the pain of it”), to Chaurisse’s mother’s Scarlett O’Hara fantasies and a desire to run a successful hair salon, the women are feisty and filled with desire. Their stories are fresh and nostalgic as an icy Coca-Cola from the bottle.
Atlanta Magazine Book Critic, Teresa Weaver, selected Silver Sparrow as one of the top five fiction titles of the year. Weaver writes:
In her third novel, the author of Leaving Atlanta explores two parallel lives on an emotional collision course, told by the very different daughters of a bigamist.
ONE GREAT PASSAGE “It was not love at first sight, at least not on my mother’s part. She didn’t meet my father and feel a shift in her personal chemistry or a change in the rhythm that connected her heart to the rest of
her body . . . What she had with my father was a sort of creeping love, the kind that sinks in before you know it and makes a family of you.”
Culture Critic, June Thomas, selected Silver Sparrow for Slate’s best of 2011. Her comments are below:
The most immersive novel I read in 2011, that is, the book that allowed me to forget my own world and fall head first into someone else’s, was Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow. It is the story of Dana Lynn Yarboro, who grows up knowing that her father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist, and her attempt to get to know and understand James’ other, more privileged family, especially her half-sister, Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon. It’s one of those “just one more chapter” kinds of books that requires much last-minute changing of plans, because real life feels far less amusing, appalling, shocking, and loving than the world of its characters.
In “Silver Sparrow” — an amazing novel about a man with two families, one hidden and one public — Jones does something breathtaking and difficult: She renders a unique family dynamic with such precision and sensitivity that it becomes universal. It is amazing to watch, time and time again in this book, how Jones reveals the ways in which family both creates and destroys our identity. Jones’ previous novels are fantastic, but this book feels like a masterpiece.
Library Journal has selected Silver Sparrow as one the top ten books of 2011.
In its 133rd year of publication, Library Journal is the oldest and most respected publication covering the library field. Considered to be the “bible” of the library world, LJ is read by over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries. LJ is the single-most comprehensive publication for librarians, with groundbreaking features and analytical news reports covering technology, management, policy, and other professional concerns. Its hefty review sections evaluate nearly 7000 books annually, along with hundreds of audiobooks, videos, databases, web sites, and systems that libraries buy.
Tayari Jones has been awarded a 2012 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is among 40 American writers selected for this distinction. Ms. Jones will use the $25,000 unrestricted grant to research her fourth novel. Read the NEA press release and browse the list of fellows.
Silver Sparrow has been selected by the National Women’s Book Association as a 2011 Great Group Read. Each year, twenty titles are chosen to mark National Reading group Month. To mark the occaision, Tayari Jones will participate in the National Reading Group Month Signature Event to be held in Nashville at the Nashville Public Library Downtown on Saturday, October 15. She will also take part in the Booklist Webinar on October 7.