"My father, James Witherspoon is a bigamist," is the opening line of Silver Sparrow, a novel written by Tayari Jones that unveils a breathtaking story about a man's deception, a family's complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta during the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon's families—the public one and the secret one. When Witherspoon's daughters from each family meet, they form a friendship, but only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich and flawed characters, she also reveals the joy, and the destruction, they brought to each other's lives.
At the heart of it all are two girls whose lives are at stake, and like the best writers, Jones portrays the fragility of her characters with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women.
Tayari Jones was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia where (with the exception of one year in Nigeria) she spent most of her childhood. Even though she has not lived in her hometown for more than a decade, most of her writing centers on the urban South. "Although I now live in the Northeast," she explains, "my imagination lives in Atlanta."
Silver Sparrow, her third novel, was published in 2011 by Algonquin Books. The Village Voice wrote that "Tayari Jones is fast defining black middle class Atlanta the way that Cheever did for Westchester." The American Booksellers chose Silver Sparrow as the #1 Indie Next pick for June 2011. Library Journal, O Magazine, Slate and Salon all selected the novel among the best of the year. In addition to being chosen by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association as an Honor Book, Silver Sparrow was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and the 2013 IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award.
A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Tayari Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, the University of Iowa, and Arizona State University.
She has taught at Prairie View A&M University, East Tennessee State University, the University of Illinois and George Washington University. In addition, she has led workshops in Portugal, Ghana, Uganda, and Brazil.
Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, where she was awarded with a Board of Trustees Award for Scholarly Excellence, the Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, a Leader in Faculty Diversity Award.
Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Artists Foundation and the arts councils of Arizona and Illinois. She spent the 2011-12 academic year at Harvard University as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, researching her forthcoming novel, Dear History.
The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with Arts Midwest, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture. The NEA Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. JMRL has received a grant from the NEA to provide a Big Read throughout central Virginia during March 2017, for the eleventh consecutive year. The NEA Big Read is also supported by the Art and Jane Hess Fund of the Library Endowment.
The NEA Big Read provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their community. The library's goal is to encourage all residents of Central Virginia to read and discuss Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, and to attend related library programs throughout the month of March.
For questions, or if you would like to participate in some way, please email the NEA Big Read team at JMRL.