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Pass Christian author Jesmyn Ward wins second National Book Award

Jesmyn Ward reads from ‘Men We Reaped’ at the Pass Christian Library after the book’s release in 2013. Ward won her section National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday night for ‘Unburied, Sing, Unburied.’
Jesmyn Ward reads from ‘Men We Reaped’ at the Pass Christian Library after the book’s release in 2013. Ward won her section National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday night for ‘Unburied, Sing, Unburied.’ Special to Sun Herald

Pass Christian’s Jesmyn Ward won a second National Book Award for fiction with her book, “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”

The award was announced Wednesday night in New York. The book is described as “a surreal and poetic novel about a struggling family in Mississippi.”

It was the second time Ward received the fiction prize: She won in 2011 for “Salvage the Bones.” She is the first woman to win the prize twice.

Ward is an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Masha Gessen’s “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” received the nonfiction prize and Robin Benway’s “Far from the Tree” won for young people’s literature. Frank Bidart won the poetry prize for his career anthology “Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016.” Each of the four winners received $10,000.

In a brief, emotional speech, Ward spoke of her frustration with some readers who wondered if they could connect with members of a poor black community in the South. She thanked the publishing community, and her friends and family, for their ongoing support.

“You looked at me and the people I love and write about ... and you saw yourself,” she said at the National Book Award ceremony, adding that she felt honored to re-imagine and amplify the voices of those she knows back home in Mississippi.

In October, Ward received a $625,000 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

The awards were presented by the nonprofit National Book Foundation.

Kate Magandy: 228-896-2344, @kmagandy

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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