The Debutante Ball Welcomes Tayari Jones!

We are so excited to have Tayari Jones, author of SILVER SPARROW, here at the Ball today!

Photo: Marion Ettlinger

Tayari has written for McSweeney’s, the New York Times, and The Believer. Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, received best of the year nods from the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Creative Loafing. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She is on the MFA faculty at Rutgers and currently holds a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University, where she is researching her fourth novel.

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Tayari Jones Takes the Deb Interview!


Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
I love my collection of antique typewriters. They are gorgeous just as art objects, but I actually use them to compose my novels. The sound of the keys reminds me that I am moving forward. I also like seeing the complete sheets stack up. Writing on a typewriter feels real to me. As I am working on my fourth novel, I needed a way to make the process seem new and wonderful again. Each of the typewriters has names. I try not to play favorites, but I think the best one is a 1950s Smith Corona. She’s pink and her name is “Tuscadero”, after Fonzie’s girlfriend from Happy Days.

Which talent do you wish you had?

I wish I could sing because I love to sing and I do it all the time, although I am terrible at it. If only my voice would bring my loved ones closer to me, instead of making them run away. There is little I enjoy more than listening to a beautiful voice—live or recorded. You have to learn to read, learn to appreciate writing, but we are all born with the equipment to appreciate the beauty of singing. Even babies love it when you sing to them.

Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
SILVER SPARROW has two protagonists. Dana is the secret daughter of James Witherspoon and Chaurisse is the daughter who he acknowledges in public. Dana’s secret is that she reads the obituaries each week to make sure that her father hasn’t died and no one has told her. Chaurisse’s secret is that she is saving money so that she can one day move to California and never see her family again. (Sadly, every time her nest egg builds up, she spends it on something stupid because she is so ambivalent about her escape plan.)

Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
I recently received a big fellowship to research my next book. I needed to write a proposal to cover my housing costs. Being the “good girl” that I am, I wrote a proposal to get a studio apartment. Then, I decided to live a little and ask for the studio apartment with “bed alcove.” A friend of mine said to me, “F***k the alcove! You just won a big award! You deserve a bedroom with a door!” So now, whenever I catch myself selling myself short, I say (either aloud or to myself,)” F**k the alcove!” It cracks me up and motivates me at the same time.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Stop thinking of yourself as “aspiring.” If you are honoring your writing practice, you’re a writer. Claim the title and then live up to it. You naturally know how to tell a story. Just trust your instincts. And then work very very hard and trust that work will pay off—and then the whole world will know you are a writer, just as you’ve known all along.

Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
I used to worry a lot that people would think that the characters were based on them—especially when they were! But I have since learned that for some people, the whole world is a mirror. They see themselves EVERYWHERE. At first this made me more anxious than ever, but then I came to see that these people see themselves always in the most sympathetic character, and I just let them believe that.

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Tayari, thank you so much for stopping in at the Ball!

To experience the book that O Magazine calls: “A love story… full of perverse wisdom and proud joy….Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers” and the Atlanta Journal Constitution describes as “Nakedly honest…dazzlingly charged” read SILVER SPARROW today!

And to learn more about Tayari, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her website where she blogs on writing.

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16 thoughts on “The Debutante Ball Welcomes Tayari Jones!

  1. LOL! “F**k the alcove!” That’s hilarious. Love it!

    We have an old Underwood — it’s my inspiration. Can’t claim I use it for its intended purpose anymore, but I did start my very first novel on it. Sadly, I’ve been seduced by the ease of deleting on a computer — my writing tends to consist of two words deleted for every one word kept. *grin*

    SILVER SPARROW sounds like a fantastic read — cant’ wait to add it to my TBR pile!

    • Linda, SILVER SPARROW is an amazing book. There were so many lines I re-read, so many gorgeous descriptions. And so many times my heart ached for Dana and Chaurisse.

    • Hi Laylah–thanks so much for stopping in and sharing the news of your upcoming exhibit. It sounds wonderful–and makes me wish I lived closer to the city (which I wish often!) All best to you!

  2. I’m glad to see this review. I read SILVER SPARROW when it first came out and had to connect with the author immediately because of the impact the book made on me.

    • Gayle, it is such a remarkable time we live in that we can have that kind of opportunity to connect through Twitter or Facebook or even email with an author whose work moves us. I remember in the good old days of sending fan letters and not expecting anything in return (of course) but now there is a good chance you’ll hear back–and have the chance to deepen your understanding of a writer and her work.

      And of course, I feel especially fortunate to be a part of the Deb Ball and have the opportunity to contact writers I admire!

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