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.
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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.
The full list of 2011 Great Group Reads is here.
I am delighted to post the link to my recent NPR interview. It was such a pleasure to sit down with Michele Norris, who is just as amazing in person as she is on the air. We talked about bigamy, Girls Write Now, Toni Morrison, “invisible” girls, Spelman College, magic wands, Johnetta Cole, writing, mentoring, and SILVER SPARROW.
Tayari Jones will spend the 2011-12 year at Harvard University as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for the academic year 2011-12. Chosen from over 800 applications, she will join a select group of fifty fellows. Each has a record of significant accomplishment and demonstrated interest in participating in the multi-disciplinary environment of the Radcliffe Fellowship Program. Next year’s fellows come from across the country and around the world, women and men at different stages of their careers, representing different academic, professional and artistic fields.
While at Radcliffe, she will work on a new novel.
The American Booksellers Association has chosen Silver Sparrow as the #1 Indie Next Pick for the month of June. According to the ABA website, “The Indie Next List, drawn from bookseller-recommended favorite handsells, epitomizes the heart and soul of passionate bookselling. Independent booksellers are and have always been discoverers of the next big thing, the next great read, the next bestseller, and the next undiscovered gem.”
In her endorsement of Silver Sparrow, Libby Cowles of Maria’s Bookshop writes: “The unconventional, morally troubling relationships at the core of Jones’ Silver Sparrow illustrate the universality of the human quest for acknowledgment, legitimacy, love, and loyalty. As Chaurisse and her secret half-sister, Dana, move toward adulthood, they must shed idealistic notions of romantic and familial love to face difficult truths. A complex family drama, a richly crafted coming-of-age story, and a meditation on the nature of love and forgiveness, this is a gripping story with characters you will not soon forget.”
Tayari Jones, Associate Professor, was honored by Rutgers University today in a ceremony on the New Brunswick campus. She received the Board of Trustees Award for Scholarly Excellence, the Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, a Leader in Faculty Diversity Award. The awards are accompanyed by research grants which will assist Jones in the completion of her next novel.
I am so happy to tell you that my third novel,
THE SILVER GIRL SILVER SPARROW, has been accepted for publication by Algonquin Books! I cannot express how thrilled I am. No word yet on pub date, as I am still working on revisions with my new editor, Andra Miller.
If I am going to take a bow for this acheivement, I have to bring my wonderful agent, Jane Dystel, to the stage. Jane really believes in her clients. She found a home for my odd first novel, Leaving Atlanta, and has stuck by me ever since. So many of my friends’ agents don’t call them back, or blow them off between projects. Jane has hundreds of clients, but treats us all with care and respect. Her co-agent, Miriam Goderich, has a degress in Comp Lit. She really gets deep in the manuscript with my and helps me ready it for submission. (She’s also good for the occaisional word of personal advice: Dump that guy, for example.)
And of course, I would like to thank all of you all for being so helpful to me as I struggled through this process. I tried to keep my head up, but sometimes I was downright discouraged and more than once I worried that the novel would die on the vine. Thanks for your encouragement and your own reports of success and even your honest reports of your own frustrations.
We’ve got a community here and I am very grateful for it.