Chattanooga Big Read: Novelist Tayari Jones Talks Typewriters, Obsessions and 'Silver Sparrow'

Jan 18, 2017

Tayari Jones in 2010.
Credit Copyright Rayon Richards

Chattanooga State received a $15,000 NEA Big Read Grant in 2016 to support a citywide reading project, and the first chapter begins Thursday.

Similar to a citywide book club, with events scheduled throughout the year, the Big Read features Silver Sparrow, a novel set in Atlanta. On Thursday, January 19, author Tayari Jones will be in Chattanooga for a kickoff event at the Camp House, part of Chattanooga State's Writers at Work series.

"My father, James Witherspoon is a bigamist," reads the novel's opening line. It's the story of James's two families--one aware that James is a bigamist with a secret wife and daughter, the other unaware.

In this WUTC interview, Jones explains how the novel represents her personal obsessions. She also talks about being a writer who loves social media yet insists on writing with a manual typewriter, and teaching writing to both young and old students.

From the NEA Big Read Web site:

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.

From Chattanooga State's Web site:

In 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) selected Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow for inclusion in its Big Read library, and in 2016, the Writers@Work program received a Big Read Grant, which will allow the program to increase its reach into the Chattanooga community. With generous additional support from UNUM, Writers@Work has partnered with local high schools to supply free copies of Jones's book and has extended its reach into the community by connecting with book clubs and developing engaging community programming for implementation during the Writers@Work event in April, 2017. This programming includes events at the Chattanooga Public Library, the Hunter Museum of Art, the Camp House, the ReCreate Cafe, Townsend Atelier, and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

To introduce Tayari Jones and Silver Sparrow to the Chattanooga community, the Writers@Work program will present Ms. Jones and her NEA Big Read novel, Silver Sparrow, at a Kick-Off event on January 19, 2017, at The Camp House, 149 East MLK Boulevard, in downtown Chattanooga. The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. with Ms. Jones's personal reading from Silver Sparrow followed by a book signing. A dessert reception and musical entertainment will follow with the opportunity for attendees to speak with Ms. Jones about her writing life.