Tayari Jones is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is Silver Sparrow. The associate professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, Tayari spent the 2011-2012 academic year at Harvard University as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, researching her fourth novel. Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, received widespread acclaim for the poignant rendering of a coming of age story set in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. Here, Tayari speaks with writer and journalist J. Victoria Sanders, a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly and Bitch Magazine, about her active social media engagement, her love of typewriters, and her travels around the world.
J. Victoria Sanders: How you make time to be so engaged with your readers while also writing well?
Tayari Jones: I actually get energy from engaging with readers. Sometimes, when I work in seclusion, I feel like I'm writing a message in a bottle, like there's no guarantee that anyone will ever hear what I have to say. But working with readers reminds me that there is a contract between the writer and her audience. Not a contract guaranteeing that the writer will write what the reader wants to hear, but an understanding that we are here for each other. That we will listen, and judge no doubt. But knowing that there is an ear out there, a pair of eyes, it's enormously helpful to me and has become part of my process. I also like engaging with fellow writers, people at all different stages of their careers. This month of August, I started this thing called #WRITELIKECRAZY and I have written more this month then I've written all last year. The Internet is amazing for building community. I never feel like I'm out here alone.
J. Victoria Sanders: What was it like for you to interview Judy Blume?
Tayari Jones: Actually, Judy interviewed me. It was a lot of fun, because she is so supportive, approachable, smart, wise, everything you thought she would be when you were a kid reading her books. But it was a little nerve-racking because she would not allow me to praise her. And how can you talk to Judy Blume without praising her? It was like my hands were tied. But it was an awesome beautiful amazing evening. I am so grateful that my publisher, Algonquin Books, had the idea for us to do this together.
J. Victoria Sanders: How did you come to be such a big fan of typewriters?
Tayari Jones: On a very silly level, I just like making so much noise! I also like the fact that typewriters are not connected to the Internet.
J. Victoria Sanders: How do you think your love of travel has impacted your work?
Tayari Jones: Even though all my novels are set in my hometown of Atlanta, I believe that travel has helped me find perspective. In addition travel shows you the things that you think are ordinary or just plain normal are specific to a particular place in particular time a particular culture. It's good to be able to see yourself in a larger context--it will only enhance your work.
J. Victoria Sanders: What are your future projects?
Tayari Jones: I'm working hard on a novel called Dear History.It's about a man who is exonerated after serving seven years in prison and returns to his wife, or at least he tries to.